I am not a spontaneous person. Not at all. I am a planner. And unless one happens upon a cancellation while stalking Staniel Cay Yacht Club’s website, this works in my favor when booking a trip to this semi-remote island jewel. And in November of 2016, I did just that…reserved a cottage for November 2017. But in late January, we were in desperate need of a warm weather getaway. So I hopped on http://www.stanielcay.com and was able to snag a 4 night stay in late February. And I noticed that the reservation I released was snapped up almost immediately.
This last minute stuff was new territory for me, but kind of exciting. And since we had already visited SCYC twice before, there wasn’t much research to be done. While I wasn’t able to secure the cottage I really wanted (and had booked for November), Sugar Apple, I was happy with 2 story Ocean Blue overlooking the docks. The only disappointment was that we wouldn’t get a 17′ Whaler but rather the 13 footer. On a flat calm day, the small boat is lots of fun but when it gets rough, as it did on the 2nd day of our visit, the bigger boat is a huge benefit. But that was a small price to pay for a Bahamian escape in the middle of winter.
And had I been able to book Sugar Apple, we would have missed out on meeting a wonderful couple who was able to grab it at around the same time we were scouring the net for a cancellation. It was so great to meet another couple who we instantly connected with. Many fond memories were made and we have already discussed plans to visit one another and to vacation together in the future. Travel friends are the best friends!
We hopped on a 6 am flight out of BWI on an unusually warm February Friday, chatted with the most charming seatmate we have ever had (retired pilot) and charted our course on the interactive seat back screens. We made a connection in Atlanta, poured a bloody mary, watched a movie, then stared out the window in anticipation of turquoise waters below.
Once we landed in Nassau, we learned that we would be the only 2 people on the Flamingo flight to Staniel Cay. Sweet. Our own private charter. We were told we could leave early once they rounded up the pilot. But alas, we were now working on island time, so instead of departing 1.5 hours early, it only ended up being about 15 minutes. But that’s better than being late! I grabbed two bottles of wine from duty free. Should have gotten more. And I should have picked up a bottle of rum. Wine was only $11 a bottle. At the Yacht Club store it’s $49. Rum was about $18 duty free and $30 at the store.
I sat up front with the pilot, Vincent, and he even let me steer the plane. No matter how many times I fly over the stunning Exuma chain, it always takes my breath away. The ribbons of blue water and swirls of white sand are a sight like no other. And we had spectacular weather for flying. In the past, we have flown through storms and past water spouts…always an adventure.
Rather than wait on our golf cart escort to the Club, we opted to walk from the airstrip, our luggage rumbling behind us on the hilly gravel road.
We knew some changes and upgrades awaited us since our last visit 2.5 years ago. The first was the new check-in cottage. Very nice. But no one was there so as we walked around toward the water, one of the employees just told us to drop our stuff in the cottage as it was all ready.
We donned our swim suits and cover-ups and headed over to check-in and place our dinner order then to the deck for lunch. We should have done the reverse as the wait for lunch was quite long, but no matter, we grabbed a Kalik and Sands Pink Radler from the bar and soaked in the atmosphere. I don’t drink beer so the Sands Pink was an awesome find. Like a grapefruit crush in a bottle. The lobster salad was divine with big chunks of spiny lobster. Then Mark got a case of Kalik for the room and to take on the boat.
We decided to take a spin in one of the kayaks since it was too late to take the Whaler out, and then get cleaned up for dinner.
There are now 2 dinner seatings..6:30 and 8:30 vs one at 7:00 PM. Since we had a late lunch we opted for the late seating. We watched the sunset from our deck then took a walk to check out the yachts. In a matter of 15 minutes, my brand new bracelet slipped off my wrist and is now probably adorning the fin of a nurse shark.
While waiting for dinner, we had another cocktail at the bar. SCYC has the coolest bar. And it is the hub of the yacht club. While trying to figure out if they still rang a dinner bell, I noticed a couple standing near us and decided to ask them. It was their first night as well and we got to talking, and hit it off. We made plans to meet in the bar afterward since we already had assigned tables, but by 10 PM we were done for so we called it a night. But not before Christina, one of the owners, came by to give us a hug. She had recognized us even without our daughter Ellie’s bright blonde head.
Since it was lobster season, I ate that every night for dinner. The 4 course meal is still wonderful…the soups are amazing, there is a different salad each night, a choice of entrée with sides and then dessert. And of course fresh baked Bahamian bread, rolls or muffins to start. A friend recently gave a perfect description of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster – fluffy. Unlike the tougher Maine lobster. We much prefer our lobster to be tender and fluffy!
The new dining room is very nice, and a has a great view of the water. And it now has air conditioning. I didn’t need it at this time of year, and was thankful they opened the windows at breakfast, but it must be a treat in the summer. I do miss the charm of the old dining room though. Part of it is still there if you want a casual dinner. We were happy to see our old friends, TC, Rhonda, Felisha and David.
The next morning dawned bright and clear and we were up early. Mark made coffee and sat on the deck to read. Each morning we would have a cup, watch the staff who lived on Black Point make their way over by boat, and see what fish was being filleted at the cleaning station. We wanted to get to breakfast right at 8:00 AM so we could hit the water as early as possible.
Conditions were good this day but the wind was going to pick up by evening. We enjoyed a full breakfast with coffee, OJ, fruit, French toast with sausage for me and an omelet with bacon for Mark while seated at a table overlooking the water. Bliss. We chatted with our new friends, hoped to meet up at some point during the day, and planned to have dinner together that evening.
We loaded up our trusty, beat up boat with a beach umbrella, chairs, snorkel gear, beach bag, and cooler with our lunch & cocktails. Our plan was to head North to Compass Cay while trying to locate the lighthouse we had somehow always missed, and a palm lined beach I had seen in photos. Very easy task! Both were right next to each other on Little Pipe Cay. Though I did spot another beach that looked more like the one I was searching for when we took off on departure day. Next time I will scout that one out as well.
Then we weaved our way through Pipe Creek, aka Sandbar Heaven. We barely needed the chart at all this trip. We had become very familiar with all of the cays from previous visits. Though we didn’t plan to swim with the sharks at the marina this time, I still wanted to stop by quick and check them out. There was a boat full of people there clamoring to pet and frolic with them so I didn’t stay long.
I really wanted to go back to Crescent Beach on the other side of the island. A perfectly gorgeous long swath of curved white sand. But it was a bit of a hike (Mark didn’t like my suggestion of taking the boat into the ocean to access it that way..though it was calm enough that we totally could have) and we only had three days, and there were plenty of other beaches to explore.
We hit Baby Conch Bay further North on Compass but didn’t find any conch. Tides weren’t right. Then back to Pipe Creek to find a sand bar on which to enjoy a frosty beverage. Paradise. And we had it all to ourselves.
The we decided to make our way to Sandy Cay for lunch. After seeing all of construction equipment on Twin Cay…a beach club is in the works…we decided against stopping there. Shame because that’s where we found lots of star fish and sand dollars a few years ago. Sadly we did not see one starfish this trip. Or the last. Only in 2013 were we treated to the sight of big orange stars beneath the crystal clear waters. Perhaps we just did not hit the right spots.
On lovely Sandy Cay, a couple had set up camp on the perfect spot at the base of the emerging sand bar. Since we are schooled in sand bar etiquette, we made sure to make our home base a respectable distance away and did not impede any views. While enjoying our lunch with toes in the water and a$$ in the sand, we were entertained by the woman having a Sports Illustrated like photo shoot with her Go-Pro and large inflatable flamingo.
The recent hurricane definitely shifted the size, shape and location of a number of sand bars. Sandy Cay having the most pronounced change. Since the yacht club now had colorful new Tommy Bahama umbrellas, I wanted to re-create a photo I had taken using an old ratty one (for those who received the Christmas card from SCYC this past year, that was my sand bar/umbrella photo on the card). But alas, when I went to put it up, I discovered we only had one pole. So much for that. We could have used the shade too.
Then over to Big Major Cay over to see the pigs. Two days before our trip, 8-10 pigs had perished. We learned that the cause of this was excessive sand ingestion. Though it’s likely that a combination of factors led to their demise including lack of fresh water and alcohol consumption (stupid tourists). Since they have become such a hot attraction (the excursion boats from Nassau and George Town are getting out of hand), more people are throwing small pieces onto the beach for them to eat, and in the process, they end up eating more sand than food. We have always fed them in the water which seems more logical to me. Since the tourists are now their main food source and they no longer forage the interior of the island, their lives rest fully in the hands of humans. If you visit, please bring nutritious food and use the newly provided bins. And definitely bring water. After a dry winter, their natural water sources have dried up.
We did see a few big pigs that we recognized, but a number of them were (obviously and sadly) noticeably absent. However, about 15-20 big piglets were brought over from Nassau and deposited on the island. I hope they learn to adapt and that they fare well. Their ears are all tagged so they can keep track of them. I still like visiting the pigs, but it’s not the same anymore.
Next up, Sampson Cay Sand Bar.
Then over to Pirate Trap Beach to finish out the day. Or so we thought. I wasn’t ready to go in after we left so we decided to check out a cove adjacent to the ocean that I had noticed from the plane and saw on the chart. Always fun to explore new areas.
Once back at the cottage, we took to our seats on the balcony and watched the goings on at the marina. Mark had found a perfectly shaped baby sand dollar for me but during the course of the day it had broken. I learned the hard way to bring bubble wrap to transport them home but now I will start carrying it in my beach bag as well.
My poorly executed application of sunscreen on Mark became apparent when he went to shower. Lots of zig zags from the spray, an errant white spot, a hand print, and lots of red. He was starting to resemble my favorite dinner entrée. Before we headed out, Mac and Megan paddle boarded up to our cottage to let us know they had accidentally made their dinner reservations for 8:30 vs 6:30 and it was too late to add them on to our table, so we decided to hit the bar together for pre-dinner rum punches and to watch the sunset.
The next morning we all met up for breakfast and made a plan for the day. But not before one of the resident kitties made herself at home in our cottage (that morning and each thereafter). And she came back every night to see what scraps I had brought for her.
M & M followed us around and vice versa. We had the best day! The winds had kicked up but it wasn’t too bad. First stop was Pirate Beach but it was already occupied so we went to the adjacent beach. There we listened to some tunes, the boys cracked their first Kalik of the day and we enjoyed just being there.
Then we climbed the cliff on the back side of Fowl cay to enjoy the views.
After that we made our way through Sampson Cay and over to Pipe Creek to stake claim on our favorite sand bar.
After lunch, two kite boarders pulled up…we had a blast watching them. They would do flips in the air and glide past within a couple feet of us. They told us that you had to be at least 60 to enjoy this sport. They were 65 and 73!
Then Mac and Meg took us to the backside of a neighboring cay where they had found conch shells the other day. We grabbed a couple to take home with us.
Thunderball Grotto was our next stop, but since it was low tide, it was crowded. That nixed the prospect of jumping through the hole unless landing on a snorkeler sounded appealing. Mac spotted a lion fish, but we never saw the huge grouper that we had seen on both of our previous visits.
For our last stop of the day, we made our way over to Sandy Cay to relax in the lagoon as the sun started sinking.
After we cleaned up for dinner, we headed over to Sugar Apple to have a drink on our friends’ deck and watch the sun set. Then we enjoyed another delicious lobster dinner.
Then out to the bar for rum punches and pain killers. We played the ring toss game, chatted with the bartenders, other guests, and people from the yachts. Such a fun night! And Finnegan had arrived! Gary, one of the Club employees even stayed to play the bongos after he finished work. We closed the bar down that Monday night.
And still we woke early. I wasn’t going to waste my precious vacation hours sleeping in.
Today was windier than yesterday but that wasn’t going to stop us. Our boat buddies were joining us on our adventures again today, and I suggested that we go check out Leaf Cay which is across the way from SCYC. I had seen an Island Hunters episode about Leaf Cay and wanted to check out the resort the new owners were building. Well, after we made it across what seemed like the Pacific (it was a longer and rougher ride than anticipated) we pulled up to a nondescript, unimpressive island. Then I recalled that there are 2-3 cays in Exuma called Leaf Cay. We were obviously at the wrong one. And it was apparent that someone else needs to be in charge of naming these islands.
The ride back was even worse. Mark’s new visor blew off so we had to fish that out of the sea. And we disagreed about the best way to make it across the open water. A few choice words were shared between the Bickersons on this crossing.
Once we made it to protected waters, we rode by the pigs. Busy again so we made it over to Pirate Beach which was thankfully deserted. We hung out on this eclectic cruisers beach for a while then set off to find a sand bar on which to eat lunch.
We ended up on the far end of the huge Hattie Cay bar since the excursion boat had already let its herd loose on the section where I wanted to be. And boy was it windy. We had lobster salad for lunch and the container had been tilted in the cooler so all of the mayo/lobster liquid had pooled into the lid so when I opened it, the wind whipped that lobster juice all over Mark who had the misfortune of sitting down wind of me. He was covered in it. Thankfully he just had to take a few steps to our giant water source to rinse off.
The ride back was going to be a slow one for us due to the rough conditions so M & M were going to stop along the way to do some spear fishing. We made plans to meet back at Pirate Trap to do some shelling. The ocean cut leading over to Staniel Cay was a sight. Nothing but big rolling white caps. It was a hairy crossing but we made it without incident and plopped our butts on the sand to wait for our friends. When a half hour passed with no sign of them, we figured they had happened upon a big school of fish or nest of lobsters, or maybe they had just ditched us, so after collecting some shells, we headed back. Mark was at peak crispiness so he went back to the room while I took a paddle board out.
Another SCYC update – the old Coral cottage has been torn down and in its place they are building a 2 story, 3 bedroom cottage which will now have a water view from upstairs. This cottage will come with a 23 foot boat but is not package plan eligible. This will be a nice option for large families and groups. All new umbrellas at the pool too.
A little while later, Megan stopped over to let us know that their boat had broken down and they had just gotten back. That called for cocktails on the sun deck until it was time for dinner. We chose the 8:30 seating this night so as to stretch out our last day as long as possible.
After our final dinner, we decided to close down the bar again. Pitbull had been at the Club the day before while we were out boating, and someone told us he was supposed to be back that night so we kept an eye out but he never showed. No matter, we had another memorable evening then sadly made our way back to the cottage for our final sleep.
We woke to a gorgeous and less windy day (figures), I settled up our bar/gift shop tab with a personal check, grabbed our to go breakfasts (the famous SCYC breakfast sandwiches), said goodbye to Mac and Megan who were headed to Black point for the remainder of their stay, and were whisked off to the airstrip. It has even gotten a couple of upgrades 1) a partial fence so it isn’t quite as easy to wander onto the runway, and 2) a small office to check you in and weigh your luggage.
Before we knew it, wheels were up and our journey home had begun. And my mind was already planning the next visit…
A few things worth noting ~
Weather and conditions – a couple of people on the travel board tried to steer me away from February because of the potential for cool weather, rough waters and shorter daylight hours. U.S. cold fronts do affect the Bahamas, mainly in the form of wind. But regardless of wave heights and wind, you can always find a protected beach. We have had rough waters and wind in the summer as well. I found the air temperature in late February to be perfect. Low 80s. The water wasn’t as warm as I prefer, but it was definitely swimmable. And when you take the boat out by 9:00 AM and are on the water all day, a 6:00-6:15 PM sunset is just fine. I would definitely travel to Exumas in the winter months again.
Tips for Staniel Cay newbies:
*If you have flexibility with your travel dates, check the tide schedule before you book. Ideal time for low tide is late morning to early afternoon. But anytime mid morning to mid afternoon works.
* Pack half as many clothes and twice as much sunscreen. Though this time I packed too light and wished I had more sleeveless options.
*Bring bubble wrap to transport your sea treasures home.
*Pack Band-Aids and Neosporin. We have not made it through a trip yet without someone cutting their foot on something. This time is was Mark and the prop. Last time it was me and a sharp shell.
*Purchase alcohol in Nassau.
Before I leave you with my Flickr album (for those who enjoy poring over island photos as much as I do), here are a couple photos of Mac’s catches from the day after we left. Nothing worse than heading home when your friends get to stay!
Here are links to both my Facebook (more condensed) and Flickr albums. Enjoy!