Somewhere in the middle of the long Exuma chain of islands lies a hidden jewel – a fifty acre sandbank lush with greenery named Fowl Cay.
If you have ever dreamed of losing yourself on a totally private and unexplored island, you would first need to locate Staniel Cay, which provides an airstrip servicing a myriad of small islands in the Exumas. You then need to charter a plane to Staniel Cay, unless of course, you fly your own or get there by yacht.
There was no other aircraft in evidence when the Beyond Black team landed, just a solitary golf cart to greet us and pick up our luggage.
Steve Huggins (‘Captain Steve’) appeared within minutes and we boarded the Royal Plantation speed boat to Fowl Cay. The captain provided running commentary as we motored past Staniel Cay’s yacht club, a favourite of Jimmy Buffett and Sean Connery who go bone fishing there.
The yacht club itself consists of an American style club house, decorated with international flags and framed 60’s photographs documenting the yachting history of the cay, and serving Bahamian and American dishes. A handful of colour-coded pink, blue and yellow houses dot the harbour.
We motored past deserted sandbanks that soon became a familiar landscape during our stay at Fowl Cay.
Then suddenly, the island itself was right in front of us, a simple wooden sign announcing its name and a small welcoming party waiting at the small dock: Julie Huggins, Captain Steve’s wife and assistant in managing the estate, and their twin children, barefoot and tanned, just as one would imagine them to be on a desert island in the Bahamas.
Our party was given one of the ubiquitous Bahamian golf carts and driven to our island home for the duration of our stay: Starlight House and Seabridge House.
Starlight House sits at one of the highest points of Fowl Cay, the other being the club house itself. Seabreeze House is at a slightly lower level. The two are connected across an open-air courtyard by a living area and kitchen where the Beyond Black troops ate breakfast and made plans for the day.
Our veranda overlooked the Fowl Cay beach, with water sports equipment neatly stored for the use of visitors, hammocks strung between palm trees and a beach bar. Further afield is a deserted stretch of an island with a tiny sandbar within swimming distance between the two.
We took an exploration trip to the other side of Fowl Cay, using the path Captain Steve had cleared the previous day. Driving past lush shrub land and dwarf palm trees, we arrived at a cove where the sand bears not a single foot mark. The silence was surreal, punctuated only by the sound of the sea, and the views were breathtaking.
Later that evening, the Captain presided over cocktails and dinner and entertained us to stories of his seafaring days and his vision for Fowl Cay’s future.
We thought Fowl Cay was exquisite just as it was.
The South-African chef, John, appeared in his whites and told us the dinner menu: a starter, a choice of two main courses and desert.
It was to be the first meal in a series of culinary excellence all the more astounding as we knew that Fowl Cay, in common with all Bahamian islands, gets food supplies by mail boat.
So outstanding is the food, in fact, mega yacht captains, alongside owners of the neighbouring islands, regularly set anchor at Fowl Cay to experience the 5 start cuisine.
After a late breakfast the following day, we piled in to the Royal Plantation speedboat once again, this time for the purpose of a day’s ‘sightseeing’.
If you are staying in one of Fowl Cay’s 6 villas (or are fortunate enough to rent the entire island), you needn’t feel shipwrecked for the duration of your stay. Each villa comes with its own boat in which you can further explore the vast array of uninhabited islands, putting for a picnic and a swim here and there.
Our first destination was the island directly opposite Fowl Cay, Big Major Spot, where recycling takes on a whole new meaning. This is the island of the semi-wild swimming pigs where all food waste is disposed of. Throw the remains of your previous night’s dinner at them and they will swim to catch it as deftly as any fish.
Next we motored to a national reserve with a difference: thousands of multicoloured fish circled around our boat while Captain Steve crumbled bread.
Snorkelling amongst them was as surreal for the Beyond Black crew as the rest of our day.
Have you ever dived to explore a sunken plane? It’s all in a day’s sightseeing and part of Captain’s Steve list of ‘interesting things to do’ while at Fowl Cay.
Motoring past countless deserted islands, some of the beaches literally petering out into the sea, we took pictures of a landscape we had not suspected existed still in the touristy Bahamas.
You look at the greeny blue translucent water and think, ‘I can touch the bottom’ even though an echo sounder would tell you that you are in very deep waters indeed.
We put at Compass Cay next. Compass Cay is yet another small island whose owner, Tucker Rolle has the most unusual pets: a school of sharks that feed at the harbour. The bravest of our crew got into the sea and patted a few of them.
Lunch at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and back to Fowl Cay completed the day’s explorations.
We spent the next few days enjoying the island, the delicious food and cocktails, sailing, swimming and dreaming that we could stay there forever.
Fowl Cay can be rented in its entirety for the relatively modest sum of US $110,000 a week.
It is the well kept secret destination of some of the world’s wealthiest players and yachtsmen.
2008 will see the addition of a spa, but hopefully not too much of a further development as the island is an absolute perfection just as it is.