April 7, 2016
Having spent a few blissful extra days at Allan’s Cay to allow Cindy’s finger to heal somewhat, we pulled up anchor and moved to Highbourne Cay, just south of Allan’s. We anchored in the bay and dinghied in to take advantage of the Highbourne Cay marina grocery store (no hammers!) and Xuma restaurant. The restaurant features a conch chowder (conch!) and a white chocolate guava bread pudding that are both out of this world.
After two days we pulled up anchor and pushed on to Warderick Wells which is home to the Exuma Sea Park, a protected nature area (no conch hunting!) with beautiful coral reefs for snorkeling. However, with Cindy’s finger not yet healed we decided it would be too risky to expose it to seawater and the organisms that grow in it so we passed on the snorkeling. We figured we’d stop at Warderick again on our way back north by which time her finger should be fully healed. Instead we spent another relaxing day at anchor bobbing off of the Warderick shoreline and then sailed down to Staniel Cay, tying up at a marina for the first time in 21 days.
Us in Front of Bougainvillea at Staniel Cay
Staniel is a small but high priced cay that caters primarily to the 100+ foot mega-yacht crowd. The settlement is within easy walking distance from the marina and has not one but two grocery stores…the Pink Store and the Blue Store. Both of these are about the size of a mom-and-pop small town mini-mart and the food stocks depend on how recently the mail boat has run (mail boats are the lifeline of the out islands, hauling mail, products, fuel and passengers between far flung settlements). There are also a handful of local bar-and-grill restaurants, a medical clinic, gift shops, a general store (groceries, no hammers!) and a church.
The social center of Staniel Cay is the Staniel Cay Yacht Club bar and grill. Decked out with burgees from hundreds of different yacht clubs, photos of the cast of the James Bond flick Thunderball (a critical part of the movie was filmed there) and crowded with cruisers, locals and a few expat barflies, it’s a great place to grab a drink, get a bite to eat and socialize.
Martin at Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Probably more famous than the yacht club though are the swimming pigs of nearby Big Majors Spot cay. These freckled pigs are to Big Majors Spot what the iguanas I wrote about earlier are to Leaf Cay. Tour boats out of Highbourne, Nassau and Georgetown bring boatload after boatload of tourists to see the famous stars of Staniel Cay (how Staniel gets the credit even though they live on Big Majors I don’t know). These pampered porkers, reportedly descendants of pigs kept on Big Majors by a Staniel Cay couple, grow fat and plentiful thanks to the handouts fed them by the dozens of boaters who visit them daily.
Staniel Swimmin’ Pig
Just like the iguanas, the pigs know that “people arriving = food” and they will come to you looking for it. Unlike the iguanas, though, these guys can really be intimidating. The larger ones look to be weighing in at a couple of hundred pounds, easy. And they want to be fed. And they can swim. So there’s no getting away from them by stepping into the water like with the iguanas.
On our second day at Staniel, Cindy and I hopped in the dinghy and made the short ride over to pig beach, with half a dozen slices of bread in a bag to feed to them. As we approached the beach, we could see the pigs, about eight or nine total. We dinghied up and I jumped out to set the anchor in the sand while Cindy took the bread ashore. Soon though I heard Cindy yelling and looked up to see her backpedaling as four or five massive porkers trotted after her, wanting food. Now she was just trying to get away from them and yelling for me. I told her “throw them the food!” but she was moving as fast as she could to get away from the porcine vultures. Going in the water didn’t slow them down. And they were loud, snorting and braying which just added to the fear factor.
Staniel Swine Snout
She tossed me the bag as she passed me and they quickly abandoned her and headed toward me. I started tossing the bread slices to them (they love it, apparently these are not gluten free pigs). Unlike many animals, if you throw food over the closest one’s head, it does not turn around to go get it. The closest one kept coming at me, swimming once the water got deep enough (they really can swim!) Finally, I stepped over and behind the dinghy’s anchor line and the poor piggie couldn’t swim over it. He turned around for the beach, braying and complaining.
When Pigs Attack
Honestly, they are not dangerous, just greedy and they stop coming after you as soon as they see the food is gone. They can however accidentally cut you with their hooves while swimming if they get close enough; those things are really sharp.
Cindy and Babe
Once the food was gone we wandered the beach among the pigs, who now ignored us. We met a woman and a teenaged girl who were posing with three large pigs that were lazily standing in the water, ignoring the handful of people on the beach. We chatted and laughed about the pigs and people’s reaction to them. As we dinghied off the beach we saw one of the tour boats arrive loaded up with food-bearing tourists. The three lazy pigs immediately swam out to meet the boat. These guys were clearly veterans and knew not to waste their efforts on the small dinghy crowd. The real payoff comes from the big tour boats!
We happened to see the lady and the girl again the next evening at the Yacht Club and ended up sitting with them at the bar. The lady, Liz, turned out to be the girl’s aunt; they were off on an adventure vacation together. Very nice, very interesting folks! Liz was one half of the Nashville singer-songwriter duo The August Empire and had just had a sizable hit with a song that was featured on NBC’s “The Night Shift”. The girl, Anna, was in tenth grade in LA and had just done her first modeling shoot, something she looked like she’d be a natural at. They came back out to the dock with us to see our boat and of course, meet Missy.
Our last day at Staniel, Cindy and I dinghied at low tide over to the Thunderball Grotto, which was featured in a pivotal scene in the 1965 James Bond movie “Thunderball”. The grotto is a cave whose entrance is underwater except a low tide. We anchored with the other visitors, donned our snorkel gear and swam for the cave entrance. The current is strong at the entrance and we had to work hard to get inside. Once in though, we saw a large dome probably about 75 feet wide and a good sixty feet high. Several large holes on the roof let sunlight stream into the cave and long tendrils like oversized Spanish moss dangled down from the roots of trees above. Looking under the water, the floor of the cave was covered in coral and schools of silver Anchovies, brightly striped Sergeant Majors and beak-nosed Parrot Fish swam around us. The effect is almost magical. We liked it so well we want to go back on the way up and bring food for the fish (they are less intimidating than pigs).