Source: Waterway Guide Bahamas Edition
Cat and Long Islands stretch southward on the eastern side of Exuma Sound, continuing a long chain of big islands south from Eleuthera. Like Eleuthera, the cruising here is generally on the Exuma Sound side, making it possible to hop back and forth from points in the Exumas.
Cat Island shares much in common with its sister islands of Eleuthera and Long. Their primary characteristics are identical: long and thin, hostile east coasts and sandy, beautiful west coasts that are just about completely devoid of natural harbors. Most anchorages are exposed and will require some moving around to find protection when winds shift. West winds will make anchoring untenable. Because of this, Cat Island may not rank high as a cruising destination at first glance, but it is one of the most beautiful islands in The Bahamas and is still largely unspoiled.
Both Cat and Long Island are quiet islands made up of small settlements connected by long two-lane roads. There are spectacular beaches, sandbars, mangrove creeks and beachside bars and fish fry gatherings to enjoy as you hop your way along the coasts of each island. World-class fishing and diving abounds.
The best way to see Cat Island is with wheels. To gain that mobility, your landing spots are critical. The west coast is lined with narrow beaches and if you drive north or south down the main road, you will be delighted by the attractive coastline and small settlements. Plantation houses still stand as a reminder of the historical significance of this enchanting island when cotton, pineapple and sisal grew in such abundance that ships called on the Cat Island ports from New England and Europe. The railroad at Old Bight–the only one ever constructed in The Bahamas–was very busy.
New Bight is the cruiser epicenter for Cat Island. It offers some shelter in the very large bay, where there's more than enough room to swing around. If the weather is favorable for a few days, you can hop your way up and down the coast, enjoying some of the prettiest beaches in The Bahamas. There are mangrove creeks to explore and settlements here and there plus Cat Island is home to The Hermitage, an iconic landmark atop Mount Alvernia, the highest hill in The Bahamas.
Overall, Cat Island feels more remote and more laid-back than her neighbors Eleuthera and Long Island. There are no big resorts or even big towns here, only small eco-resorts catering to guests looking to disconnect from the rest of the world. Diving, fishing and quiet days on the beach are on the itinerary here.
Recommended Cat Island Marina: Hawk’s Nest Resort & Marina
An easy day sail east from George Town, cruiser-friendly Long Island is sure to charm adventurous sailors and inspire them to stay longer than planned. A handful of cruisers call on Salt Pond as their winter home and there is an active Cruiser's Net here. The grocery and hardware stores are well stocked. The largest town and only port on the Atlantic side of either Cat or Long Island is Clarence Town. This is a stop for cruisers returning north or heading south to the Caribbean. Many readers will be crossing to Long Island from George Town's eastern cut. Over 40 vessels cross yearly in the "unofficial" Long Island Rally, which is held during the first weather window after the George Town Cruising Regatta.
Long Island stretches for more than 80 miles with farming communities, steep cliffs and shallow bays. It represents the best of the Family Island traditions with its historic churches and long-established family villages. Their openness and hospitality to visitors is something that you will not have encountered elsewhere. The 4 miles of beaches of Cape Santa Maria at the northern tip are captivating and perfect for beachcombing and exploration.
Once around Cape Santa Maria, Calabash Bay on the west coast is a beautiful anchorage and bonefishing on the western flats is unequaled. South of N 23° 26.134' cruisers will find themselves below the Tropic of Cancer and officially in the Tropics. Moving farther south there are pretty beaches and secluded coves with historical sites to hike, caves to investigate and blue holes to explore. Often there are hikeable roads leading to the Atlantic Ocean side with fantastic shelling, snorkeling and reef diving or spear fishing. The popularity of bonefishing and diving has encouraged new growth of small inns and kitchenette accommodations, small restaurants, car and van rentals and fishing guides.
The Atlantic (east coast) side is rocky, steep and weather beaten. It is best held at a wide berth, well offshore. Fortunately, there are two places to tuck in–Clarence Town (a safe haven) and Little Harbour (a settled weather anchorage). Cruisers returning north or heading south to the Caribbean are almost certainly going to make Clarence Town a port of call. At the northern and the southern ends of the island, vessels can play east and west coast options to their advantage; however, if you need to find real protection, the east coast is a no-go.
Recommended Long Island Marina: Flying Fish Marina