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An article written by our staff and featured in The Charter Connection

by Carly
October 2006

I’m very good at sunbathing.

So, when a friend invited me to accompany herself and her family on a weeklong charter of the Exumas, I knew I could put my skills to good use.

But when I first laid eyes on Solstice, a 47-foot Catamaran, I felt a little apprehensive.

“We don’t actually have to sail this thing, do we?”

Alas, that’s the beauty of chartered cruising. For Cliff Block, skipper, and Liza Shaller, chef, drink-mixer, deckhand and all around right-hand gal, Solstice is home; they take on about fifteen charter groups a year, for either a few days or longer.

Cliff sails, Liza makes things like crab stuffed sole in a lemon butter sauce and all we really had to do was…look for sand dollars.

The four-seat puddle hopper dropped us off at Staniel Cay, about the middle of the 120-mile long Exumas in the southern Bahamas. From there, we sailed north for the trip, weaving in and out of tiny islands and cays. The Exumas are a remarkably empty lot, many of the islands too small or rocky to have attracted large developers. Sailing in the off-season, we found nearly vacant cruising grounds and sometimes days would pass before seeing another boat.

We were alone inside Thunderball grotto, the underwater cavern James Bond famously escaped from in the movie 'Thunderball'. And, aside from the circling Caribbean reef sharks, we had Danger Reef to ourselves. Cliff, who previously worked as a scuba instructor, led the brave on a 40 foot dive to swim with grouper, yellowtail, and barracuda - all protected by the Exuma National Land and Sea Park, which takes up a large part of the northern islands.

Outside the park, the shallow waters off The Exumas are renowned for bonefishing but we speared lobster for dinner instead. At Norman’s Cay, we snorkeled around a sunken DC-3 airplane, shot down by the Bahamian Defense Force when the islands were a drug-smuggling depot in the Eighties.

And for those who actually want to sail, the captain was happy to let you raise a main or tighten the jib, but really, why bother?

After hitting my head five times on the bimini, I became quite the regular deck monkey. The stateroom (there’s three, each with a bathroom en-suite) was comparable in size to the bedroom of my New York apartment, which either says a lot about the stateroom or my apartment. But the best night’s sleep could be found on the trampoline, water lapping below and counting falling stars above.

August through November is hurricane season in the Caribbean, hence the cheap flights getting there and empty waters. Solstice doesn’t usually charter in those months, explained Cliff, and their peak season begins in December. But for one week in early September, vacation gods gave us 85 degrees, sunshine and balmy weather. A lone morning was choppy and gray, but that was just to make sure we had our sea legs.

Occasionally, Cliff and Liza venture down to Georgetown and the southern Exumas for a reggae festival or regatta but they say they prefer the peace and isolation of the north.

For those missing crowds, cruise ships and slot machines, we sailed to Nassau for the last leg of the trip and spent an evening touring Atlantis, the sandcastle pink mega-resort on Paradise Island.

One evening in the crowded capitol is enough to make any sailor miss a deserted anchor, a rum and tonic and a fiery Bahamian sunset.

Or sunbather.

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