We’re diving deep into some of the world’s greatest island destinations with lifelong sailor and cruise consultant Pam Wall.
Life in the sailing world connects you to some fascinating, marvelous people, and Pam Wall is truly one of the best. Pam is a dear friend of the David Walters Yachts Crew, and a veritable font of seafaring wisdom; wisdom earned through her passionate pursuit of adventure on the water, from when she first accompanied her father on sailing races around the Great Lakes, to her honeymoon crossing the Atlantic from Florida to cruise Europe for four years in a 30’ wooden sloop in the pre-electronic, pre-communication era, to living on a home-built Freya 39 with her young family, cruising around the world for nearly seven years. Pam's career began as a young yacht broker in Fort Lauderdale and includes 22 years with West Marine outfitting yachts for bluewater cruising. These days Pam shares her expertise as a freelance cruising consultant, helping people navigate life on a boat for all kinds of sailing adventures. Aboard her beloved boat, Kandarik, the same Freya 39 that carried her family from Florida to Tahiti to Australia and beyond, Pam continues to sail with her son. Her enthusiasm is infectious and her knowledge is profound. We hope you'll enjoy this list of some of her favorite spots in the Bahamas, and please note that, per Pam, this list barely scratches the surface! Without further ado, let's set sail with Pam:
Across the Mighty Gulf Stream
So long as there isn't an "N" in the wind, it's easy to cast off from Florida and cross the Gulf Stream to the beautiful Bahamas. (Pam Tip: If the wind does have an "N" in it, sailing the Gulf Stream can be extremely dangerous as the wind is against the Gulf Stream current. Pam highly recommends waiting until the wind and current are with you from the southeast.) Coming from Florida, you'll start near the Abaco Islands, where you can sail through the crystal-clear protected waters of the Sea of Abaco to darling little towns, gorgeous white sand beaches, and local marinas, without the discomfort of ocean swell.
Down the Abacos
If you leave Fort Lauderdale at 10pm, depending on your speed over the ground, twelve hours later you'll be at West End at the top of the Abacos making your landfall in Old Bahama Bay Resort and Marina in time for breakfast. The marina has restaurants, a little grocery store, and a fuel dock. Fuel up your boat and your stomach here at your Port of Entry in the Bahamas.
Green Turtle Cay
Another place to check in is Green Turtle Cay, with its adorable little town and two hurricane holes with marinas, White Sound and Black Sound, each offering completely protected beautiful harbors. A fabulous haul-out marina in Black Sound allows you to get any kind of work done on your boat by their amazing staff, or even leave it hauled out while you're gone and pick it up later. (Pam Tip: If you have a draft on your boat of more than 5’, you have to play the tide at both harbors and go in at high tide or a minimum of half tide rising.) Best of all, there is a nearby airport to fly in and out of between the Bahamas and the US.
Although hit heavily by Hurricane Dorian, Man-O-War Cay remains one of Pam's favorite spots to stop and get work done. Since the hurricane, the island has made an admirable recovery when it comes to meeting yacht necessities. Although the capital of Abaco, Marsh Harbour, is just five miles and a ferry ride away, Pam prefers Man-O-War's Eastern and Western Harbors, with moorings in the Eastern Harbor and the downtown area at the western end of the inlet. A couple haul-out facilities are there, as well as a fuel dock. Both Edwin's Boat Yard #1 and Edwin's Boat Yard #2 are full service, but if you go to #2, be sure to say hello from Pam to Jan Manni, the manager. Her husband Jay is the local sailmaker, rigger, and canvas maker. Don't miss Hibiscus Cafe for a delicious local meal. Pam used to leave her boat here all summer long, flying into Marsh Harbour and then taking the ferry to Man-O-War Cay, where Kandarik waited on a mooring.
Three miles away, explore little islets in the Sea of Abaco around Hope Town. Visit the only active, manned lighthouse in the world that has not been electrified. The candy-striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse is fueled by kerosene and has been in continual service since the 1860s. (The station is currently closed, but check the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society website for updates before you take your next trip to Hope Town.) Call in to Vernon's Grocery Store on the VHF radio in the morning to place an order for one of Vernon's famous key lime pies. Pick it up in the afternoon along with coconut cake, fresh Bahamian bread, and more treats accompanied by Vernon's signature dry sense of humor (Vernon is extremely funny and never smiles). Tell him Pam Wall said hello. Hope Town's gorgeous harbor includes a full service marina and a fuel dock to get water and fuel. It’s a lovely fully protected harbor with restaurants, Vernon’s Grocery Store, and a full-scale marina across the harbor under the famous lighthouse.
Between Hope Town and Little Harbour there are about 50 more places it pained Pam to skip, but in the interest of making this a blog post and not a full guidebook, we're heading to this last most favorite spot in the Abacos: Little Harbour. A perfectly protected harbor at the bottom of the Sea of Abaco, you'll have to play the tide if you draw more than 5', but once you're inside the harbor, pick up a mooring ball (or a dock if you're lucky!) and head to the world famous Pete's Pub for some grub. (Pam eats every meal there.) If you're looking for unique gifts to bring home with you, head to the Johnston Art Studio and, if you’re lucky, visit the foundry where the Johnston family and resident artist Richard Appaldo have been casting bronze art sculptures in the Abacos since the 1950s. Peter Johnston (yup, Pete of Pete's Pub) and Richard are both great friends of Pam's, and if Pete's not casting his beautiful bronze sculptures, he might give you a tour of the foundry. Little Harbour is a well-known favorite of fans of the Abacos, and you can find many more recommendations of things to do in cruising magazines beyond these quick tips from Pam.
From Spanish Wells Down the Exumas
Spanish Wells, Eleuthera
After the Abacos, we'll head to another island group, Eleuthera, where Spanish Wells has a lovely little harbor, delightful people, good restaurants, a grocery store, and an elevator lift. Hire a guide and take the Devil's Backbone to the next harbor—you'll need a guide who knows how to get around coral heads, despite it being no more than three miles.
Another one of Pam's most favorite places, Norman's Cay has a checkered past that adds extra points of interest. Pam's father built a house here, but was forced to abandon it at gunpoint after a drug cartel took over the island in the late 1970s. The cartel also used a DC3 airplane, which they crashed into the shallow harbor where it has remained, submerged and merging with the marine life that has accumulated around it, becoming an artificial reef and a fascinating dive site. The plane is located in the Slot, which is the way most people go to Norman's Cay, but Norman's Pond is a wonderful hurricane harbor that you enter by going back out into the Atlantic from the Slot on the south end of the cay and back in a mile north. Getting into the Pond is a bit tricky: you'll need to sound the depth from your tender to make sure you know how to get in without going aground, and go at half tide rising. Once you're in, it's nine to ten feet everywhere, and then you have to call Pam so she can tell you where her father's house is, which is still standing even after several hurricanes. Norman's Cay is also accessible by plane, with flights to Fort Lauderdale leaving from the island's airport.
Get ready to get back into your tender at Shroud Cay, the next stop in the Exumas, but this time it's so you can explore the myriad canals that span across the island, spotting fish, turtles, and even baby sharks among mangrove roots in the crystal clear waters. Just make sure you get back out of the canals before low tide. You could spend multiple days just exploring the canals, or head to the beach on the leeward side for some really nice shelling.
Exuma Land and Sea Park
Do not miss going to the Exuma Land and Sea Park. You have to make an appointment to pick up a mooring on your VHF radio, but the breathtaking beauty of this Land and Sea Park is well worth a little preplanning. Please follow their rules to protect all the wonderful sea creatures that call this park home.
Although we're heading about 40 miles south to our next stop, you don't have to go back out into the ocean because the water is 13' deep and protected from east winds by all the islands along the whole way. It may be howling a gale but you won't see any rough seas. You'll simply watch serenely as the water goes from pearl to chartreuse to emerald green to turquoise. Staniel Cay is home to a yacht club with docks, lots of mooring balls, and cute little grocery stores. You may recognize Thunderball Grotto just opposite the town from its appearance in the 1965 James Bond film starring Sean Connery. Anchor off the cave in a dinghy, take a deep breath and swim into the cave for an unbelievable experience (don't worry, even a little kid can do it). While Pam can't personally get on board with swimming with wild pigs, she does recognize that it is a huge draw for tourists to play with the pigs over at Pig Island, which is just around the corner from Staniel Cay.
Skipping a few more stops along the Exuma chain (call Pam if you want to talk in detail about anything along the way), our last stop is Georgetown at the bottom of the Exumas, which has everything: big grocery stores, big restaurants, a big marina, a lake for anchoring dinghies, and more. Outlying islands protect the bay so that it never gets rough and there are many cute places to anchor in the lee of the islands. The infamous Volleyball Beach is here, where yachties set up a volleyball net on an unclaimed beach and folks who like society go to see and be seen. In the spring, you can see the National Family Island Regatta in Elizabeth Harbour, featuring beautiful handmade Bahamian sloops built and skippered by locals. The distinctive boats have enormous sails, long booms that stick out the back, no ballast, and a board out the windward side of the boat that everyone sits on to keep the boat balanced. The extremely competitive races are accompanied by fantastic entertainment ashore, including junkanoos, traditional Bahamian music, and lots of good Bahamian food!
From the Abacos to the Exumas, you can see a lot in a short amount of time, making these Bahamian island chains popular destinations for Christmas and Easter vacations. There are a few local airports for coming and going if you want to leave and come back; you can leave your boat in a haul-out marina (in Black Sound in the Abacos) and fly in, or just wait for the wind and head across the Gulf Stream to start your next Bahamas adventure. Got questions about any of these spots (or anything along the way)? Throughout the interview, Pam repeatedly offered her expertise to anyone who is interested in delving into more details. You can reach Pam via email at email@example.com and learn more about Pam's amazing life at sea at her website, pamwall.com, including a gallery of photos of her beautiful family on their cruising adventures. We can't wait to sit down with Pam again to share more of her recommendations with you. And a hearty thank you to Pam for taking us on this voyage through the Bahamas!