The Magical Ragged Islands

Within minutes of our arrival in the Bahamas for the first time in 2019 I was astonished as I watched a sting ray leap into the air twice and I was instantly smitten with the Bahamas. Each year I have fallen deeper in love and somehow it has happened again. Will I ever tire of the crystal clear blue waters, the marine life, the beaches, and the social way of life as a boater? NOPE! NO WAY!

After a week in Long Island and a quick visit to the farmers market we left with Privateer to head toward the Jumentos, a 100 mile string of islands south of the Exumas. We went as far as Water Cay, woke up the next morning and learned that the forecast had changed: bigger winds in the following days and winds from the west the following weekend. This is not good news as there is little protection from westerly winds in the chain of islands that runs north/south. So, back we headed to Long Island to await easier weather. Thankfully our buddies on Four Pete’s Sake and Beatrix were there and we enjoyed a second trip to the fabulous farmers market. We arrived late and did not get much produce which was unfortunate because the grocery store also was meager.

After 1.5 wks at Long Island we tried again to work our way south spending the first night anchored at Flamingo Cay where there are no flamingoes. However, a large shark immediately came to check us out as we lowered our dinghy into the water. We hiked across the island to the windward side seeing a few ponds filled with red shrimp and I almost stepped on several fearless curly-tailed lizards. Upon our return to the dinghy a sting ray was right beside me and to top it off a turtle was swimming leisurely past our boat as we were eating dinner…that’s my kind of day!

Can you see our blue dot? So close to Cuba…I wish we could have kept going.

Next up was Hog Cay, home of the famous Valentine party presented by the locals for the boaters spearheaded by Maxine who has organized all 21 years . We had heard so many wonderful things about this event and were thrilled to be a part of the day. The lunch and auction took place under a huge tiki hut where boaters hang out augmented by large screens that provide shade. The locals built a fire and prepared conch fritters, local goats prepared as a curry, peas and rice, fried grouper, ham, BBQ chicken, baked mac and cheese, cole slaw potato salad, beer and soda. The boaters brought the dessert. It was a sumptuous feast!

The term “locals” refers to the <70 residents of Duncan Town, the only town in the Jumentos, located on Ragged Island just south of Hog Cay. Ragged Island is only 60 miles north Cuba, has no water, fuel, and just a few items in their barren store. Basically you are on your own. One would think this out-of-the way island would be deserted but there were 47 boats for the big Valentine’s Day party! After lunch there was an auction with the items that boaters donated. Locals did most of the purchasing as it is extremely expensive to have anything shipped to the Bahamas, often more than double the price as it would be in the US.

Every evening boaters head to shore for socializing and watching the green flash which we see on a regular basis. We made many new friends and had fun at “sundowners” (drinks and apps as the sun sets) and potluck dinners. I love it that everyone brings their chairs to the tiki hut and leaves them for the duration of their stay. It’s ok to sit in someone else’s chair until they show up and no worrying about someone stealing your chair.

We’ve taken up dumpster diving, our term for perusing the windward beaches which are overflowing with plastic, shoes, parts of boats, etc. It is disheartening to see gorgeous beaches littered not by the Bahamians or the visiting boaters but by flotsam and jetsam from far off shores. We search with Greg and Lisa for hamburgers (mucuna urens from South America), sea heart beans (from the Monkey Ladder vine), shells and other treasures that float in from Africa or South America. We followed tradition by hanging the boat sign we made in the tiki hut using “found” materials of wood and shells.

Oops… we hiked longer than we thought we would and the tide was going out. The four of us had to do a lot of muscle work to push the dinghies off the sand.

We had two surprises after our hikes with Privateer. One day we came back to the beach and from a distance we could only see one dinghy. There was an instant sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Luckily upon closer inspection we realized that one was hiding behind the other one. The next surprise came when got there finding the 2 dinghies were aground. We had not sufficiently allowed for the drop in the tide and the four of us had to coerce the dinks to float; not an easy task when ours weighs 800 lbs.

One of my favorite aspects of boating is meeting friendly and interesting people and this is the prime spot. One evening at happy hour in the tiki hut I met a young woman that also eats plant based. After a 5 minute conversation we planned a potluck on our boat. She also invited another boat and we invited Privateer. We had a blast with new friends Amy, David, Judy and Todd! We had a delicous meal, traded recipes and learned that Todd had captained a previous boat owned by Lisa and Greg…such a small world. The evening was such a success we repeated it the next week onboard Amy and David catamaran, Starry Horizons.

We, along with 10 other boaters, made a 4.5 mile dinghy trip into Duncan Town on Ragged Island for lunch one day. Although we try to eat healthy there weren’t any plant based options so we chose the local fare of lobster/conch pizza and grouper fingers. Definitely delicious!!!! We only spent 1 hour 19 minutes in town because the tide was dropping and we had to skedaddle before the dinghy could get stuck. We actually packed snacks, umbrellas, sun protection, etc, in case we had to wait hours for the tide to rise. Fortunately we made it thru with only 3 little bumps in the sand and we saw several rays and turtles, an added benefit of traveling at low tide. One day as we walked the beach we saw 10 turtles. Marine wildlife abounds surrounding these out islands.

Johnson Cay looking north. Can you find Unforgettable?
Johnson Cay looking south…so peaceful.
Johnson Cay looking down.

We were rather sad to leave Hog Cay but had long run out of fresh food, in fact, we went an entire month without a stock up at a grocery store. Thank goodness for our freezer full of fruit and veggies. On our way north we stopped at Johnson Cay, a small bay surrounding us on 3 sides. We had our own private beach and could see the dark blue of the water on the windward side of the island at the same time we floated in the turquoise water, it was magical. Wouldn’t you know, that was the day the galley sink became clogged and Scott spent 6 hours working on it! That’s ok, we just extended our stay for another night! Scott enjoyed playing with his drone and I found a plethora of shells. Scott tested out his spear gun and caught dinner: a Queen Triggerfish! He was quite pretty and despite what the internet said…it wasn’t very tender or tasty. All in all, this might be our new favorite anchorage!

Tiny’s Hurricane Hole with Pete and Elizabeth.

Heading back north we stopped back in Thompson Bay in Long Island for solely one reason…to go to Tiny’s Hurricane Hole (Scott’s favorite beach bar/restaurant!). It had just reopened after being closed for several weeks due to renovations.

Here we are back in George Town tidying up and awaiting our next guests. I am amazed that basically every day since Nov. 29 we have had approximately 80* highs and 70* lows with sun…winter doesn’t get better than this. We have hiked more, beach combed more, shelled more and socialized more than I could ever imagine. I’m already dreading our departure in May!

We’re the pot of gold at the end of the double rainbow. Photo by Barbara Bryant

2 thoughts on “The Magical Ragged Islands

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  1. Hi Scott & Melissa! Your blogs are a regular source of vicarious pleasure. We are now “stuck” in PA having shed the ties of Florida. We miss it, but in our early eighties, it was time to return to family. Best regards, Eric & Leeanne.

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