By Steve MacNaull
In the clearest of Bahamian waters, my son slows the boat and trims up the motor. The bow meets the white sand with the slightest resistance and we come to a gentle stop.
Our eyes scan the perfect crescent of beach, the adjacent glistening sandbar and we congratulate ourselves on navigating our way to paradise. We’ve triumphantly arrived at Sampson Cay in the Exuma chain of islands in the middle of the Bahamas.
But, wait a second.
Where’s the marina?
The map indicated Sampson had a marina. So, I ask the guy under the blue umbrella on the beach where the marina might be.
“No marina here,” he replies.
“This is Sandy Cay. The marina is over there on Sampson Cay,” he adds pointing to the east.
Evidently, even armed with a map, our sense of direction is pathetic. When we departed Staniel Cay Yacht Club that morning in the 22-foot Boston Whaler, the plan was to cruise in the sunshine and soak up the sights passing Thunderball Grotto, Little Major Cay, Big Major Cay and Fowl Cay before heading due north to Sampson and its marina for a snack.
Obviously, somewhere around Fowl Cay our sketchy map reading caught up with us and we ended up motoring straight west to Sandy Cay. No problem. Our mistaken destination proves to be the ultimate consolidation prize. The cooler containing the Kalik beers comes off the boat and we lounge on the beach sipping and laughing at our navigational incompetence. We splash along the sandbar and take a dip in water the colour of a melted light-green gemstone.
This happy mishap could only occur in the Exumas. Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where we’re staying in one of the pastel-coloured cottages, can include the use of a Boston Whaler daily in the room rate.
You receive instructions on how to operate the boat, a map and recommendations on what to see and do. The water is shallow, the islands close together and Staniel Cay has the landmark of a cellphone tower in case you lose your bearings. Staniel Cay Yacht Club is also an awesome base for our father-son adventure trip. Besides the oceanfront accommodations, the club has a marina, atmospheric Caribbean dive bar and fine-dining restaurant. Plus, it’s incredibly close to all of Exumas greatest hits.
During a half-day tour with Sandy Gray in his skiff, we again find ourselves gliding through translucent waters to Bitter Guana Cay to feed the iguanas and hike to a limestone clifftop to take in a visa of ocean in graduated shades of blue, dotted with green islands backed by a cobalt sky.
Then it’s on to Big Major Cay, home of Exuma’s hottest and most surreal attraction, the swimming pigs. Yes, oinkers in the ocean, porkers who float, snorting for your attention and food.
Our guide has wisely brought a loaf of bread and we feed slices to the swine, first from the boat as they swim out to greet us and then
as we wade in the shallows and finally up on the beach.
The three giant mottled brown sows are the hungriest and bossiest,
the two dozen piglets the cutest.
You can’t get a straight answer on how this pigs-in-paradise scenario came to be. Are they the descendants of porkers who survived a shipwreck and swam
to shore? Did they break out of a farmer’s pen on the far side of the island and find their way to the beach? Or, did some canny tour guide place them there to start the tide of tourists? With our bread gobbled up and a steady stream of tourists with more pig snacks constantly arriving, we take our leave to snorkel into the underwater cave at Thunderball Grotto.
We even climb to the top of the island and jump through an opening in the top of the cave to the water 20 feet below. The grotto gets its name from the 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball, which featured the unique cave in an action sequence.
The bar at Staniel Cay Yacht Club was a favourite hangout of the movie’s crew.
Time to make your Exuma memories!! Here’s a little video of ours.
While the Exumas are part of Bahamas’ ‘out islands’, they are well connected with many airlines, including Air Canada flying twice a week between Toronto and George Town, Great Exuma, where there’s also a luxurious Sandals Resort.
Check out Bahamas.com, StanielCay.com and AirCanadaVacations.com/Bahamas.