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 Exuma anchorage. 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. Best accessed from the Exuma Sound, consult Active Captain community for details on the approach.

I like North Sail Rocks as 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.

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

Exuma fishing tips: filleting a wahoo in the Exumas

Photo: filleting a fresh caught Wahoo

We recently returned to the Exumas fishing and bareboat charter 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.

Thanks for reading my post about Exuma fishing tips! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this Exumas cruising guide.

Bali 5.4 Review: Our Favorite Yacht Charter Catamaran

Bali 5.4 helm station view

We had the opportunity to sail a Bali 5.4 during our week-long sailing trip in the Exumas Bahamas.

The verdict? This was our crew’s favorite catamaran that we have ever been on for these sailing vacations (and we’ve been on many other Balis, Lagoons, and Leopards). If you want to know why I only sail catamarans for these trips, check out my catamaran vs monohull comparison.

This was also the largest multihull I’ve handled and a bit bigger than we needed for our crew size. We were supposed to be on a new Lagoon 46 for this trip, but it’s delivery was going to be delayed. So instead, the charter company upgraded us to this brand new Bali 5.4.

How new? We were the second crew to use it after it’s delivery from being on display at the Annapolis boat show.

Let’s start this Bali 5.4 review with the living areas.

Bali 5.4 in the Exumas on a bareboat charter trip
~5 foot draft took us to some anchorages otherwise off limits for monohulls in the Exumas

This boat was made for relaxing!

This is exactly the type of catamaran that I’d want with a big crew (8-10) on a sailing trip!

Let’s start with the flybridge. The helm station has room for two and affords excellent visibility perched high above deck. It’s positioned on the starboard side so your immediate view isn’t blocked by the mainmast.

What I love about the flybridge is that it combines the helm station and lounge areas. The captain/helmsman still feels like they are a part of the action. Just behind the wheel is a large U-shaped seating area with two tables. And then behind that, are a couple cushions for sunbathing underneath the mainsail.

sailing the Exumas
Room for two at the helm station
Bali 5.4 top deck
Lots of room at the U-shaped seating area of the flybridge
Sunbathing on the Bali 5.4
Sunbathing underneath the boom on the flybridge

Other amenities of the flybridge: plenty of storage, speakers for jamming sailing tunes (yes I’ve been on catamarans that don’t have this) a beverage refrigerator, and a sink! No need to go downstairs for fresh cocktails.

The trampoline, a common feature of most catamarans, is replaced with a solid foredeck – probably the one feature I disapprove of. I love laying on the trampoline at night for stargazing. It’s a tradeoff on the Bali 5.4 to make room for the two single berths in the bows.

You can still lounge up front at the forward cockpit and we usually used this space in the morning for breakfast. Use the forward door straight out of the galley. This direct access is great. Enjoy some bacon, eggs, and coffee at the table as the sun rises over your anchorage.

Bali 5.4 forward cockpit
Breakfasting at the forward cockpit with direct access to the galley

Heading aft, another feature of Bali catamarans is the garage style door that rotates up. Our version had an electric winch to handle this, but on some models you may have to do this by hand (which is no big deal). So rather than have an indoor and outdoor dining table, you only need one. The door rotates up and large windows slide open so you get a true indoor/outdoor open space to enjoy!

We enjoyed dinners here and even popped up a sheet to make a big screen for Master and Commander.

Cooking in the Bali 5.4 galley
Making fresh wahoo sashimi in the spacious galley
Watching Master and Commander afloat
Pop up screen to watch Master and Commander | We have the garage door in the down position

The galley is plenty big for any amount of cooking and entertaining you plan to do. On the Bali 5.4, you have so much storage that we were able to stow most of our provisions away. It’s also U-shaped which makes enough space for 2 cooks to prep meals without bumping into each other.

The gas grill is built in with a pop up cover. While we could never get it blazing hot, always a problem with boat grills, but it’s location and cover helped shield it from the breezes.

Below decks on the Bali 5.4

Honestly, below deck features on a sailing trip are the least of my worries. We sleep there, but otherwise don’t spend much time hanging out in the cabins.

Our version had 5 main cabins, each with it’s own head. In addition there are 2 additional single cabins in the bows of the two pontoons. We didn’t use them – I believe for a crewed charter, this is where the captain and hostess would stay. You might be able to fit a kid in each, but keep in mind they are separate from the main living space. Access is from a deck hatch and in our version they were not air conditioned.

This was the first time I’ve slept on a mattress positioned perpendicular to the hull. The benefit is you have more space to maneuver in the cabin. The mattress was also bigger than, say, one shaped to fit in the bow of one of the pontoons.

One of our cabins was extra large – the biggest I’ve seen so far. On some models, this can be shrunk to make room for a 6th cabin.

Compass Cay shark
Shark visitor in the Exumas | You can also see the hydraulic swim platform
Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
The underwater blue lights were a lot of fun

Systems/features that are great for sailing trips

Our version of the yacht came with all the bells and whistles.

Generator / air conditioning: it got real cold! We can thank how new the boat was. In case you haven’t been on a Bali, be aware that the galley area is not air conditioned. The reason? The pop up garage door doesn’t seal perfectly.

Watermaker: again, this worked great and required no mid-trip adjustments. Our charter base helped set it and forget it. All we had to do was check the pressure occasionally and turn it off when water tanks were full.

Underwater blue lights: this was the first time I’ve had this and it was awesome!!! We put them on in the evenings – lots of fish and a couple sharks showed up to say hi.

Hydraulic swim platform: another nice suprise. You can adjust it to any level and it double functions as the dingy lift.

Bow thrusters? The Bali was equipped with these (I saw the propellers while snorkeling) but the charter company advised us that they were not operable. So, we didn’t attempt it. There was a control for them at the helm station. This boat, like most catamarans, are so easy to maneuver with twin engines that I’m not sure I would have even tried to use them.

Catamaran downwind sailing on a bareboat charter trip

Sailing Performance

We only averaged 10 knots of wind on our trip, occasionally cranking up to 15. As a result, we didn’t really get to put the Bali to the test under sail. We had to motor about half the time due to light winds.

But, we put the sails up whenever we could. The sails went up smoothly with help from 3 electric winches.

It has a self tacking jib – another nice feature that would make it easy to single hand for a captain.

On a broad reach we were able to get our speed up to about 7 knots – pretty good as far as I’m concerned for a bulky yacht charter catamaran. Downwind we picked up 6 knots with about 10 knots of wind speed.

Bali 5.4 helm station view
You have excellent visibility from the helm station on the Bali 5.4

Under motor

This was the fastest catamaran I’ve been on under motor. Revving to 2,500 rpms, we easily reached double digit speeds. Engines seemed at ease. The speed came in handy for our Exumas trip when we got a late start out of the marina on our first day.

I really liked the electric throttle controls. It takes getting used to since you need to let them pause in neutral when moving between forward and reverse. Once figured out, there is no guessing which gear you are in – have you ever asked yourself if you are really in neutral??

Sail Rocks North anchorage sunset
Great sunset on our last night in the Exumas

Another bareboat charter with the Bali 5.4?

So would I charter the Bali 5.4 again? Yes and no. For a crew of 5 (we had a few last minute covid-related cancellations), it seems a bit excessive.

The other big consideration is the price, which we did not have to pay (we payed a lower rate which was applicable for the Lagoon 46). This would probably be one of the more expensive yachts you can charter – especially for a new model.

If money were no object and I had a large crew of 10-12. Absolutely!!! We loved it.

Lionfish Ceviche Recipe

Fresh caught lionfish ceviche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionfish Ceviche Ingredients

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

Method

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

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

Sailing the Exumas: Bareboat Charter in December

Wahoo caught on the drop in the Exumas sound

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

The island chain in the Bahamas had everything our crew was looking for in an Exuma Yacht Charter: solitude, natural beauty, fantastic sea life, stunning anchorages, and great fishing. We cashed in on each of those this trip.

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

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

Table of contents:

Exuma weather gods were on our side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The catamaran - Bali 5.4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bali 5.4 downwind sailing
Easy downwind sailing in ~10 knots

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

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

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

The Exumas sailing itinerary: 7 spectacular days in the Exuma Islands

Arrival day

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

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

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

Palm Cay sunset, the Exuma bareboat charter base
Lots of construction underway at Palm Cay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1 - Yellow Bank crossing to Ship Channel Cay

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

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

We quickly topped off the fuel tanks and were off!

Amazing, and I couldn’t believe it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Turnaround point at Staniel Cay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Staniel Cay Yacht Club bar

Day 4: Sandbars, pristine beaches, and sharks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compass Cay shark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 7: back to Nassau over the Yellow Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another successful sailing trip in the books!

Thanks for reading my trip report about sailing the Exumas. If you want to learn more about the Exumas, especially some of the more popular anchorages, check out our Exumas Cruising Guide. Please subscribe to see more content from me about yacht charter trips!

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, the Exuma bareboat charter base
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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