Cruising the Bahamas: Compass Cay

A Special Place

Written by Debra Israel

Compass Cay is just one of the 360 small islands that make up the Exumas in the Bahamas. It’s also our little paradise, our favorite destination with our 66-foot offshore Happy Heart during the months of July and August. We cruise to and from Compass Cay on weeklong trips, bringing family and friends along for each visit.

From the moment of our arrival, Compass Cay always has a warm, family-like atmosphere. Tucker, the owner, along with his sons and staff, tends to the marina’s day-to-day operations, all while grilling and serving up the finest hamburgers in the Exumas. The marina is always busy. Because Sampson Cay Marina has closed, Compass Cay has expanded its capacity by adding two more t docks, bringing the total to six, and a separate eat-in structure where the hamburgers are served. other amenities include lodging, bathrooms, shower and laundry facilities.

During our stays, we take part in the pot-luck dinners on the docks, which happen once a week. each boat contributes something, and everyone gathers for great food and socializing. Many lifelong friendships have begun during these dinners.

Although Compass is quaint, it also has some world-class natural attractions. For example, the water is the perfect temperature for swimming and is an inviting, crystal-clear turquoise. There is a long, glistening white, crescent-shaped swimming beach that’s mostly protected from the wind and rough surf. Gazebos dot the shoreline, offering a relaxing escape from the hot summer’s sun.

If one has an interest in photography as I do, there are many breathtaking views and sunsets to capture. Bird lovers will be thrilled by the variety of species easily observed while walking the many paths. A few of my favorite sightings have been of the yellow-crowned night heron, green heron, and ruddy turnstone, along with the many hummingbirds, sandpipers, warblers and night hawks.

Some days we venture to Big major, home of the swimming pigs, and anchor in the harbor. as you dinghy toward shore, the pigs begin to swim out to meet you, hoping for a generous portion of food! The pigs are very friendly and mostly safe — however, watch your fingers, and the pigs have at times been known to try to climb into a dinghy. If your dinghy is soft sided, a pig’s feet can pose a potential puncture risk to the tubes. 

Compass Cay is located within a dinghy ride from several other wonderful places, including O’Briens Cay, part of the Bahamas National Park. Some would say that the natural aquarium there is the best snorkeling in the world. I would agree. Don’t forget to bring food, especially bread, to feed the fish. Another spot we enjoy is Rachel’s Bubble Bath, a small natural swimming pool protected by large rock formations. When the tide levels are high, the waves blow in from the ocean, forcing a deluge of cascading water into the swimming pool and producing a huge waterfall and an abundance of bubbles.

Another place to explore is Staniel Cay, just 7.5 nautical miles southeast. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club, accomodating boats up to 185 feet, has two very small grocery stores, a fuel dock, lodging facilities and a newly renovated restaurant. Staniel Cay is known for its Thunderball Grotto, where the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball was produced. Swim through an underwater opening in the rocks, and find yourself in the interior of the grotto, completely surrounded by schools of fish — again, don’t forget the fish food. If you have an underwater camera, the rocky outsides of the grotto are probably the best filming opportunity you will have for capturing interesting fish, coral and all things aquatic.

One of my favorite attractions at Compass Cay are the third and fourth generations of pet nurse sharks that live around the marina docks. The sharks are fed well and handled by humans many times daily, and they seem to seek out this human affection and enjoy — or at least tolerate — humans swimming alongside them. There is a special dock dedicated to the sharks, and at high tide, when the dock is barely submerged, the sharks swim up and lie on the dock, waiting for the many people in line to pet and scratch their backs. I know it sounds unlikely, and maybe even crazy and scary! But each summer, people flock to the island just to see such a sight. Once they realize there isn’t much cause for fear and their doubts are alleviated, they too don swim masks and take the plunge to swim with the sharks. 

Many boaters return to Compass Cay year after year, just as we do. Compass’s welcome sign, positioned above the office dock entrance, says, “Welcome Home.” Most boaters certainly feel that way about Compass. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for boaters to stay for a whole season. For this reason, it is best to book your stay as early as possible. Compass is a very special place, indeed!

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