For many peo­ple

Passage Maker - - News & Notes -

(or at least for me), the ar­ray of is­lands that make up the Caribbean Sea, West Indies, and The Ba­hamas can be dif­fi­cult to keep straight. “The Ba­hamas are not part of the Caribbean,” my col­league and ship­mate for the week, Peter Swanson, re­minds me for the umpteenth time since I stepped off the plane. I have just ar­rived in steamy Nas­sau on New Prov­i­dence Is­land by way of At­lanta and Seat­tle. I am about to spend five Au­gust days ex­plor­ing the Ba­hamian is­land chain called The Ex­u­mas. To many that read this magazine, the Ex­uma Cays are old hat (and you don’t have to be re­minded that it is pro­nounced “keys”). But to some­one like me from the Pa­cific time zone whose trop­i­cal va­ca­tions are usu­ally spent on the less farflung beaches of Maui or Mazatlán, they are a whole new world.

Leav­ing the air­port, my cab driver weaves a well-worn path through Nas­sau’s maze of round­abouts, avoid­ing trin­ket-shop­ping cruise-ship tourists like he’s in per­fect con­trol of a video game. Reg­gae mu­sic beats softly on the ra­dio, and he’s driv­ing ca­su­ally, with one hand on the wheel and one el­bow out the win­dow. Forty min­utes later we ar­rive at Par­adise Is­land’s At­lantis re­sort. The re­sort is built on prop­erty once owned by Merv Grif­fin, and it opened for busi­ness in 1998 af­ter four years of con­struc­tion. The ma­rina, ho­tel, con­dos, aquar­ium, casino, and lux­ury golf course that com­prise the re­sort all feel like some­thing torn from Walt Dis­ney’s play­book. At­lantis is a place where words like “aqua­ven­ture” are in­vented—and if we’re lucky, it’s where th­ese words stay. Twenty years on, the re­sort seems like it could use a fresh coat of paint, so I don’t mind that Peter and our two other ship­mates are itch­ing to un­tie the lines and get mo­tor­ing.

But first we get the run­down on our char­ter ves­sel from Robin Cartwright, the sta­tion chief of The Moor­ings of­fice here in Nas­sau. The Moor­ings, a well-known va­ca­tion char­ter out­fit with out­posts from Croa­tia to Tonga, has of­fered us a 51-foot pow­er­cat for the week, and Robin takes care to walk us through the ship’s sys­tems and mi­nor idio­syn­cra­sies. She also of­fers itin­er­ary sug­ges­tions so we can make the best use of our lim­ited time. Even Peter, the only one of us who has cruised th­ese wa­ters be­fore (on his 30-foot ketch, “ages ago,” as he says), finds Robin’s ad­vice use­ful. Once fin­ished, we bid farewell for our first leg, a three-hour cruise across Ex­uma Sound.

The Ex­uma Cays re­sem­ble splotches of ink drib­bled on a chart. They fol­low the shelf of the Ex­uma Bank, a shal­low plateau that falls off sud­denly into the At­lantic on the wind­ward side of the cays. As we steam across the sound at what we de­ter­mine to be an eco­nom­i­cal cruise of 12 knots, Peter ex­plains that the bank is the rea­son for ex­treme cur­rents in and around the is­lands: “Imag­ine a plate sub­merged un­der an inch of wa­ter; if you were to raise that plate, all the wa­ter would fall off very quickly at the ex­act same time.” The seem­ingly strange tidal pat­terns make a lot more sense when he puts it like that.

“An is­land for ev­ery day of the year,” travel brochures boast of The Ex­u­mas. And if time al­lowed, we could have started from Grand Ex­uma, the south­ern­most point of the cays where you’ll find the cap­i­tal city of Ge­orge Town. Sail­ing for roughly 80 miles north-north­west, we would have passed 364 in­di­vid­ual cays and islets on our way to the north­ern­most point, Ship Chan­nel Cay. But check­ing off all 365 is­lands was not on our itin­er­ary this time.

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