Going a Bit Beyond

The Exumas, south of Nassau in the Bahamas, are worth the extra nautical miles of cruising from South Florida.

The Exumas offer yachtsmen an exotic escape without requiring a transatlantic crossing.Zach Stovall

A little more than 10 years ago, my editor asked me if I had any interest in spending a week aboard a 120-foot motoryacht that had been built for the king of Spain. Yes, these are the kinds of things that really do happen when you work for a magazine like Yachting. And yes, it took me all of three-tenths of a second to start daydreaming about how amazing the yacht would be.

I flew to Nassau, in the Bahamas, and met her at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort marina. The captain immediately cast off the lines and pointed her bow south, taking us away from the tourists and into the Exumas archipelago.

Exumas has native iguanas that can grow to be up to around 3 feet in length.Zach Stovall

That's where I saw a scene much like the one in the photograph above, of Staniel Cay: water just as impossibly turquoise, skies just as beautifully blue and a beach just as shockingly empty of people, as if it had been created and left there just for me to find it.

Yes, these kinds of places really do exist. Yes, I did forget about the yacht, save for the dinghy, which I promptly took ashore.

And yes, it takes merely a day of cruising on many of today’s midrange yachts to reach this island paradise from Nassau if you choose to cruise the Exumas part of the Bahamas yourself. The Exumas aren’t as well-known as the Abacos, which, to the north of Nassau, are easier to access from South ­Florida. And that’s a good thing. The Exumas feel like a hidden ­treasure, which is one of the things that makes the archipelago so worth cruising the extra nautical miles to reach in the first place. Of course, you will find conch shacks and beach bars in the Exumas, but you’ll also find quiet spots that seem as remote as uncharted islands in the South Pacific. And I can tell you, having cruised from Fiji to Bora Bora on that side of the world, that the water and sand in the Exumas is usually just as picturesque, if not more so in a few places.

Yes, in case you’re curious, I do have a photo of an Exumas beach on my wall today. But no, the king’s yacht isn’t in it. As it turned out, the yacht wasn’t the best part of that story.


The marina at Compass Cay is in a protected harbor where you will want to have your binoculars handy — if only to check out the nameplates on the yachts as big as 180 feet that sometimes stop here for the night. The marina shop has all the basics in case you forgot to pick up something in ­Florida, and the pet sharks that hang out beneath the docks are always a favorite with the kids.

On Big Major Island, wild pigs have learned to welcome incoming tenders with a friendly snort.Shalamov

At least that's what I was told about the hefty oinker that swam up to my tender and nearly capsized it trying to climb aboard as I headed toward the beach at Big Major Island. Emily knew that dinghies are usually full of humans carrying carrots. Thank goodness we had some handy. (Provision accordingly.)

(Left) The pace of life in the Exumas is so relaxed that you can find yourself playing games for hours. (Right) The sheer quantity of burgees at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club tells you how special the place is.Zach Stovall

Singer Jimmy Buffett — who knows a thing or two about beach bars and a good meal in paradise — says the Staniel Cay Yacht Club restaurant and bar are on his top 10 list. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served (including local lobster), and there's a kids menu with a good selection too.