THE EXUMAS are another crescent chain of more than 350 islands stretching 90 miles from Sail Rocks, midway between New Providence and Eleuthera, to the big island of Great Exuma. The chain is paradise for cruising, fishing and diving with good anchorages but few settlements and even fewer facilities. The people are friendly and helpful and there's another communications network — George Town Cruisers Net (maybe only in season) at 0800 on channel 16 VHF - Blue Yonder.
On the way southward down the chain, there are facilities at Highbourne Cay, Sampson Cay, Staniel Cay Yacht Club and at the Yacht Club on Little Farmer’s Cay. On Great Exuma Island there are facilities at Exuma Docking Services in Elizabeth Harbour, near hotels, restaurants and shopping. Farther east are Little Exuma and Hog Island for great cruising and anchorages for the self-sufficient. There are few settlements and no facilities.
LONG ISLAND, 20 miles east of Little Exuma, 75 miles long and less than four wide, has a sheltered bight with shallows that force most cruising boats to use direct routes to places such as Stella Maris on the northwest end and Clarence Town on the southeast shore. Stella Maris has a hotel, restaurant and shopping ashore; there's dockage, service and shopping at Salt Pond farther south, and Clarence Town has a town dock, restaurant and shopping.
CAT ISLAND is yet another long, narrow island (measuring 48 miles by as little as one), and is the highest of the Bahamas with elevations over 200 feet. The island is roughly 20 miles from the southern tip of Eleuthera with a convenient steppingstone at Little San Salvador Island, which is known for its fine diving and bonefishing. Like Great Abaco and Eleuthera, it offers great cruising in the bight of its leeward west shore with superior diving and fishing on its reefs and flats, great gunkholing up several creeks, and interesting ruins of its plantation past. When you arrive at your first Bahamian port of entry, you WILL have to formally Enter (process paperwork through Bahamian Customs and Immigration) and pick up a Temporary Cruising Permit before you can cruise any farther. The paperwork is fairly simple, and most marinas will have the necessary forms ready for you to fill out when you arrive. Or, you can save time on arrival by getting the blank paperwork through Bahamas Tourism's U.S. office and filling it out ahead of time. Just call 954-236-9292, and ask them to mail the paperwork to you.
You'll also need your ship’s papers (in good order, of course) and proper ID for all aboard. Passports are required for U.S. citizens. Your driver’s license is NOT valid for proof of citizenship, but is good to have along as photo ID. Citizens of all countries should have passports.
CRUISING PERMITS: The Cruising Permit fees remain as determined a few years ago. The fee is $150 for boats up to 30 feet in length; $300 for boats over 30 feet. They are valid for two entries during any 90 day period.
The Temporary Cruising Permit costs (both $150 and $300) cover the departure tax for three persons and include the Fishing Permit required (sportfishing and lobstering only) if you want to fish. Spear guns are not allowed, but a pole spear is okay if you wish to use one. Ask that your fishing permit be endorsed for its use when you get it at Customs. No travel or other fees are charged by Customs and/or Immigration Officers.
NOTE: New Sportfishing Regulations became effective in January, 2007 and were amended late in that year. Current information as provided by the Ministry of Tourism is on page 14.
A $25 per person ($28 from Grand Bahama) departure tax will be charged for each additional person aboard over the original three persons included in the Cruising Permit fee. Remember, no one but the master may disembark until all paperwork is done.
The wait for Customs & Immigration clearance can still be quite lengthy. In our opinion, West End, Bimini or Cat Cay — by virtue of their proximity to the U.S. and inherent closeness of Customs and Immigration to the marinas — are by far the quickest and easiest to negotiate of all commonly used ports of entry. When departing from West Palm Beach, Miami or the Keys, we find it's often worth stopping at one of these three places for quick Entry and an overnight, even if our ultimate destination lies farther east.
SOUTH AND EAST from Long Island and Cat Island are Conception Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay (where, it is reported, re-development has started on the marina by the Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts), Ragged Island and the Jumentos Cays, Crooked and Acklins Islands, Mayaguana, Great Inagua and the Turks and Caicos Islands, stretching like steppingstones for another 250 miles southeast from Long Island.
Note that the Turks and Caicos Islands are only a part of the Bahamas by geography. Politically they are still a British Crown Colony, with their own customs, cruising permits, regulations and laws. The only facilities are on the island of Providenciales (generally known as Provo), and at Cockburn Harbour on South Caicos. But anchorages, beaches and diving opportunities abound for the self-sufficient boat.
All of these are destinations that are not only quite demanding of boats and boatmen but also extremely rewarding in adventures that are more Caribbean than Bahamian, and only the well-qualified cruise there. There's a marina at Hawks Nest Resort and limited facilities at Fernandez Bay on the bight. Otherwise, there are only anchorages off small settlements or town docks that must be shared with commercial traffic.