In Search of Solitude and Adventure

Before we set out on this trip to The Bahamas, Allan often said that he wanted to anchor for a month on a deserted island in the Raggeds, aka the Jumento Cays and Ragged Island, which are southwest of Long Island. 

Vinyasa at anchor in Johnson Cay.

Known for their rugged beauty and remoteness, the Raggeds require self-sufficiency and a sharp eye on the weather.

“Getting caught in the Raggeds during a strong winter front poses serious challenges and can be dangerous for even the most experienced ocean cruisers,” warns the Eighth Edition of the Explorer Chartbook for the Exumas and Ragged Island. “The options in a frontal passage are to go out to sea or let the wind put the stern on a lee shore. Anchorages may become untenable with great potential to get in trouble. Help may be non-existent or days away.”

Duncan Town is the only settlement in the chain, and with a population of less than 100, fuel is not available for cruisers and most food must be ordered in advance at Maxine’s store, so it can be brought in from Nassau by mailboat.

Boats drawing less than 5 feet can travel to the Raggeds from Great Exuma, but for deeper draft vessels such as our Catalina Morgan 440, the anchorage in Thompson Bay, Long Island, provides a better staging point. The small but well stocked Hillside Food Supply is an easy walk from the dinghy dock. Seafarer Marine, about a half mile walk south, carries a solid selection of boat bits; diesel, gasoline, and propane can be found at Long Island Petroleum.

We spent 10 days in Thompson Bay, bracketed by two cold fronts. We made good use of the time catching up with friends over lunch aboard Vinyasa, visiting Tiny’s Hurricane Hole for pizza and rum punch, and renting a car to roam the island. This time, we made it to Clarence Town, where we scoped out Flying Fish Marina for a potential future stay if we ever need to check in to The Bahamas from the east.

Once the weather settled, we set sail for Flamingo Cay in the Jumentos. We could see one sailboat ahead of us and five behind us that morning. Vinyasa was one of 11 boats anchored in Flamingo Cay a few hours later.

The red dots along our route from Long Island to Flamingo Cay warn of coral to be avoided…and not all coral heads are charted.

Before the sun set, we dinghied into a small cave—a first for us.

It was fun to explore this small cave by dinghy.

We were then happy to stretch our legs with a hike across the cay to the ocean side. Along the way, Allan spotted hundreds of small crustaceans in a pool midway along the rocky path. 

This small, rocky pool in the middle of Flamingo Cay contained hundreds of these small red crustaceans.

Strong surge rocked the boat uncomfortably overnight, so we hoisted anchor early the next morning hoping for more protection at Buena Vista Cay, a five hour sail south. 

With reefed sails Vinyasa moved along at a comfortable pace until short interval, steep waves in Man of War Channel had us clip our PFDs to the boat for a sporty half hour. The Explorer chart’s channel warning “Usually Rough” was spot on. Then our chart plotter stopped displaying details as we passed Jamaica Cay on the south side of the channel. 

We keep an iPad running Navionics mounted next to the chart plotter, so that device became the primary navigation, and another iPad running Aqua Map with the Bahamas Explorer Charts became our secondary. A paper copy of the chartbook was also on board, if we needed. 

We’ve found that the Explorer Chart depths are much more accurate than Navionics in the Bahamas, so we draw our routes in Aqua Map and then export them to Navionics, which has more updated information on obstructions.  All that said, visual piloting is key in The Bahamas. Not every coral head or rock is charted, so we were happy to relax after dropping anchor in  beautiful Buena Vista Cay, alongside four other boats.

The next day we followed a path marked by discarded flip flops and flotsam across the cay to the ocean, and we explored a ruined house, a sad reminder of the toll hurricanes take on those living in the islands. A thriving herd of goats dispersed into the bushes, and some stacked plywood and lumber inside and near the house hinted at an effort to rebuild.

Hiking on Buena Vista Cay.

We would have lingered in Buena Vista to snorkel and spear fish except for the ever pesky surge. So we continued sailing south, thinking of anchoring off of Raccoon Cay. Once underway, we decided to press on and ended up anchoring in Johnson Cay, which the Explorer Chartbook  describes as “perhaps the prettiest place in the Ragged Islands…” 

We were delighted to have the small horseshoe anchorage to ourselves for two nights. We made the most of it with several hikes ashore and some excellent snorkeling right off the boat.  Unfortunately, surge was annoying in Johnson Cay, too, and with the forecast calling for wind to soon shift to the northeast, we hoisted anchor and made a short 2 nautical mile hop to Double Breasted Cay, where we anchored behind four catamarans.

That afternoon we dinghied to shore for a walk across the cay, and exchanged a quick greeting with Elayna Carausu of Sailing La Vagabonde, as her two young boys splashed in a tidal pool.

Exploring by dinghy the next morning we saw half a dozen manta rays and several speedy sea turtles. A search for snorkel worthy coral led us towards Hog Cay, and we decided to move the boat to it. The rare March combination of light wind and easterly protection made for a fun late afternoon paddle board session.

Sunrise at Hog Cay.

Taking advantage of light winds this morning, we dinghied 3 nautical miles to Duncan Town, the settlement on Ragged Island. The island was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, and many structures still show signs of damage but some construction is also underway.

A lengthy canal for small boats leads through some mangroves into Duncan Town.
Schools of fishes hang out at the dinghy dock in Duncan Town.

We stopped in at Maxine’s Store and bought tomatoes and a green pepper, and carried back word to cruisers in the anchorage via a VHF 16 announcement that she also had eggs and romaine lettuce for sale today.

A steep incline leads up to Duncan Town from the dinghy dock, with construction underway atop the hill.

Internet connectivity in the Raggeds is spotty, so I’m uploading our experiences while we have a signal. If the forecast holds true, we’ll be here another four days and then retrace our route back to Long Island, from where we aim to visit Conception and Cat Islands—if the weather allows!