By Whitney Sanford. All images ©2014 Whitney Sanford and Kevin Veach used by permission.
After the motorboat drove off, leaving Kevin and I, our boats, and about one hundred pounds of gear off on Big Major Cay (near Staniel Cay), we were on our own for a honeymoon paddling and snorkeling adventure in the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. This was day 1 of a six-day self-supported kayak trip from Big Major Cay back to Barreterre, where we had started. Although we had done several self-supported kayak trips before, the remoteness of this trip called for new levels of teamwork and flexibility; we were each other’s back up and safety.
We had brought our TRAK kayaks and paddling gear from the US and then rented stoves, camping gear and a local cell phone from the Out-Island Explorers. Our shake-down trip through Florida’s 10,000 Islands demonstrated just how much the boats can carry, so our gear, food, and water fit easily in the boats. (And if we can survive dragging all our gear through the Miami Airport, I think we can survive almost anything.) Getting to the island itself was an adventure, requiring several evenings in the Peace and Plenty hotel bar until we found a local boat owner who agreed to ferry us and our gear north towards the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. (Hint: check local calendar for national holidays and majors events first.) The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is one of Bahamas’ National Parks, and Big Major Cay lay just outside of its southern boundary. Three days in an island paradise–what a terrific way to start a marriage!
We paddled over, anchored our boats on some rocks, and swam through the entrance to this underwater cave. Light streamed in from above, and we saw hundreds of fish, including sergeant majors, and a variety of coral. Later we paddled over to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and tied up our boats alongside the yachts. Although we had brought plenty of food for our trip, our dehydrated foods were no match for beer and fish sandwiches. After we ate, we watched them feed the nurse sharks that congregate around the dock.
The club also gave us a chance to refill one of our water bags. None of our campsites had fresh water, but there were several restaurants and yacht clubs along the route. We brought plenty of water, but planned to continually refill, just in case.
Paddling with the Pigs
We planned to circumnavigate Big Major Cay the following day, and we heard that the south side of the island held one of the area’s other tourist attractions: the swimming pigs. The next morning, as we lingered over our coffee, we heard a rustle and a snort. A little pig… Then lots of little pigs! They must have smelled our coffee. We jumped and stomped, and Kevin shooed them away with a flipper. We didn’t realize that we had just met the swimming pigs’ little brothers.
After breakfast and a snorkel, we began our trip around this wild tropical island. We carried a picnic lunch and several loaves of bread. When our waitress at the Yacht Club heard about our plans to visit the swimming pigs, she gave us some day-old bread to feed them. About three quarters around the island, we saw several anchored boats and a small wood hut on the beach with several sleeping pigs. OK, we thought, these must be the swimming pigs we keep hearing about. They sure look pretty lazy, we thought.
We paddled closer and called out to them until they began to stir. They looked at us, waddled over to the water and swam toward us. We threw them some bread, and they swam faster. Oh oh, those pigs are big and fast, much bigger and fast than we thought. I’m not sure I even knew that pigs could swim. Most people feeding the pigs are in big boats, not skin on frame kayaks. I was throwing bread and trying to take their picture, while Kevin was yelling at me to back paddle–which I did, quickly. We got away with no punctured boats, but the pigs certainly got my adrenaline flowing. And I got some great pictures as well.
Waterspouts and Weather Adventures
After three days, we left our island paradise to head south towards Barreterre. For the first few days, we had ideal weather, no rain and no clouds, but the weather had began to resume its normal patterns of midday storms. To adapt, we got up early, listened to the weather radio, and tried to get into camp by early afternoon. The water was so blue, it felt like we were flying. As we headed south, the islands became more developed, and we had heard that country music singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill owned Goat Cay. We sang them a lovely duet as we passed, but never knew if they heard us.
We continued paddling, as the skies darkened with telltale anvil shaped clouds. We stopped to take a quick stretch break on a shallow sandbar, then suddenly the weather took an ominous turn. The wind picked up, the water churned, and we saw a waterspout in the distance, heading towards us. I have never paddled so fast in my life. We sprinted about a half mile to an small cay and dragged the boats to a protected spot under a ledge. We crawled up the rocks to watch the storm pass which fortunately veered away from us. The weather cleared up after that, but we both recognized the importance of being a good team.
This leg of our journey ended several days later at Norman Cay when the boat brought us back to Barreterre, and we returned to the Peace and Plenty in Georgetown. I would do this trip again in a second, and I hope we can get into the Land and Sea Park itself.
Since this trip, we have done a number of self-supported trips in the southeast, and we both recently passed our ACA Instructor Level 4 Open Water certifications. We love to kayak surf, and now we’re looking ahead to paddling in Wales. As we improve, we can take more exciting trips together, and we’ll be bringing our boats with us. Our paddling honeymoon launched a lifetime voyage of love, teamwork, and fun.
Our motto: live our lives like a Jimmy Buffett song.