Month: November 2023

Bahamas Wildlife Guide

Bonnie Lynn Coral snorkel

From parrots and flamingos to dolphins, sea turtles, and the famous swimming pigs, the Bahamas boasts an incredible array of wildlife. In the heart of the North Atlantic, this archipelago of over 600 coral islands and 2,400 cays has just 30 islands inhabited by humans. The stunning scenery, crystal-clear waters, and diverse marine life make it the ultimate destination for a wildlife sailing holiday. In this Bahamas wildlife guide, we’ll delve into the most exciting animal encounters in this region, from rare tropical birds to the iconic swimming Pigs. 

The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Perhaps the best place to spot Bahamas wildlife is the Exumas. An island chain within the Bahamas, the Exumas is home to one of the world’s largest marine parks. The underwater landscapes of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park are a treasure trove of marine biodiversity. Visitors can immerse themselves in the mesmerizing beauty of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses. On our Bahamas sailing holidays, traditional schooner Bonnie Lynn is a regular visitor to the park, and is happy to give guests all the top tips to make the most of their visit. 

Bahamas Marine Wildlife

Dolphins, whales and turtles abound

The waters between the Exumas and Andros are home to a variety of dolphins, including bottlenose and common dolphins, and porpoises. Sailing through these waters provides a high likelihood of encountering these playful marine inhabitants. Our guests on board Bonnie Lynn have even had some up close encounters with dolphins whilst snorkelling – truly a once in a lifetime experience!  The migration seasons in autumn and spring bring the majestic humpback whales to the waters off the coast of the Bahamas. While a rare sight, spending a week on board a traditional sailing boat undoubtedly has the best chances of spotting whales in the Bahamas. Sea turtles are also a common sight in the Bahamas. On the island of Eleuthera, Winding Bay’s mangrove-lined creeks provide a calm refuge for sea turtles of different ages. Adventurous kayakers can float close enough to touch these gentle creatures during high tide. 

Pristine coral reefs and tropical wonders

No holiday to the Bahamas would be complete without heading underwater to snorkel in some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. Across the islands, you’ll discover schools of tropical fish, from dazzling angelfish to graceful parrotfish. Starfish Beach, located in the Exuma Cays plays host to an incredible population of colorful and diverse starfish. It’s shallow and tranquil waters make it an ideal habitat, and the perfect place to snorkel with these fascinating creatures. The most common species found here is the red cushion sea star, also known as the Bahamian starfish.

Up close encounters

Head to Compass Cay to experience swimming with nurse sharks in transparent turquoise waters. Compass Cay serves as a sanctuary for these docile creatures, allowing visitors to approach and swim alongside them in a protected environment. Nurse sharks are known for their non-aggressive nature, providing an excellent opportunity for a safe and awe-inspiring wildlife experience. Stocking Island, situated near Great Exuma, is particularly famous for its population of friendly stingrays. Here, visitors can wade into the shallow waters and interact with these gentle rays. The southern stingrays, accustomed to human presence, often glide gracefully around the area, offering a remarkable chance for observation and even gentle touch. Guided tours and educational programs ensure that these interactions prioritize the well-being of both the stingrays and visitors, contributing to a responsible and sustainable wildlife experience in the Bahamas.

Bahamas Wildlife on Land

Although the Bahamas may be best known for it’s underwater wildlife delights, there’s no shortage of fascinating creatures to discover on land. Our sailing holidays in the Bahamas allow guests to experience as many locations as possible, island hopping each day. 

The iconic swimming pigs of the Bahamas

Perhaps the best known Bahamas wildlife is that of the iconic swimming pigs. Big Major Cay, also known as Pig Beach, hosts a colony of friendly pigs that have become one of the iconic attractions of the Exumas. While it is rumored that passing sailors or even pirates left the pigs, it is not in fact known how they came to live here. These happy swimmers share the crystal waters with visitors, with the island’s sheltered location providing them a safe haven. Take a few pieces of fruit along and you’ll have friends for life!

Endangered species and conservation efforts

Bitter Guana Cay, situated in the Exuma Cays of the Bahamas, is home to a population of endangered and protected rock iguanas. These iguanas have earned protected status due to their vulnerable population. Known for their unique appearance, these rock iguanas exhibit a rough, textured skin, and varying shades of gray, brown, or green scales, enabling effective camouflage in their rocky surroundings. Conservation efforts, such as habitat restoration and monitoring programs, aim to safeguard the population of these rock iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay.

A haven for tropical birds

The Abaco Islands, nestled in the northern Bahamas, boast a rich and diverse array of exotic birdlife, making them a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. This archipelago is home to various bird species, including the striking Bahama Parrot, which exhibits vibrant colors and is often spotted in the pine forests of Abaco. In the Great Inagua Island, the national bird of the Bahamas, the Caribbean Flamingo, is sure to delight on a visit to the Inagua National Park.

Bahamas Wildlife Sailing Holidays

With such a variety of diverse species on land and underwater, the Bahamas is one of our top destinations for a wildlife sailing holiday. If you’d like to experience the rich marine life, remote islands with wondrous forest and mangrove lined creeks, join our traditional schooner Bonnie Lynn for a Bahamas wildlife holiday like no other.

Denmark Travel Guide: Sailing South Funen

Aron underway from the side, South Funenm Denmark

When you’re never more than 32 miles from the coast, Denmark is truly a hidden gem in the sailing world. Tucked into the shelter of the Baltic Sea, with some 444 islands to explore, sailing in Denmark is much more accessible than you might think. A few members of the VentureSail team joined Aron of Svendborg for five days, island hopping the South Funen archipelago. Here, our Operations Manager Naomi shares her ultimate Denmark travel guide.

Denmark Travel Guide: UK to Svendborg

Our Denmark travel guide begins in the UK. With flight times to Denmark sitting at under two hours, we awoke in the UK and fell asleep to the gentle waves of the Baltic Sea! Most major UK airports (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham) fly to Denmark’s capital Copenhagen. A number of UK airports also fly to Billund, which is another simple route to reach Svendborg. It’s worth checking both locations to see what works for you. We chose to fly in and out of Copenhagen to allow for a short break in the capital!

As we were travelling to meet Aron in Svendborg, on the island of Funen, there were different route options to consider. The most direct route from Copenhagen was a one change train through to Odense and then onto Svendborg. You won’t need to book separate tickets, just pop Copenhagen > Svendborg into the DSB site and it will find the route for you. Odense isn’t a huge station so changing trains is straight-forward and there are plenty of display boards to help find which track you’ll need to be on!

Hailing from Cornwall, our team were a little dubious about public transport being on time to make a connection. However, Denmark runs like clockwork, making the travel to and from the boat surprisingly relaxing and an enjoyable part of the adventure. The train journey is about 2.5 hours so it was time to sit back and enjoy the green countryside landscape roll by. DSB Standard class is similar to the UK’s First Class – another example of the Danes really doing things well!

Denmark Travel Guide: Joining Aron in Svendborg

Svendborg is a bustling harbour town and our first impression was of how clean and well-kept everything is. The marina is a stone’s-throw from the train station, less than 5 minutes down the street and across the road. If you have some time to spare, there are plenty of coffee shops around the station or benches by the marina to watch the comings and goings. 

Usually Aron moors on the main marina edge, so you’ll spot her on the stroll down from the train station! Once aboard, we met our fellow guests and had our cabins allocated. After a brief chat over a coffee we made our way on deck for a safety briefing.

The makeup of guests on board varies, on our trip roughly half the guests were British, and half were Danish, which was a nice dynamic. The skipper, crew, and other Danish guests spoke excellent English so communication and instruction on board was predominantly English. The other guests and crew were quick to confer in Danish if they were searching for an English word to share with us!

Skipper Helene used to teach sail training, so armed with her chalk pot, she gathered us all on the fore deck. Here, Helene drew out how the wind direction would affect sail hoisting and who would be standing where, and pulling what ropes. Her instruction was so clear and simple, everyone just seemed to pull together, quite literally at the right time. We had assumed some guests on board were experienced sailors – but it turns out they’d never sailed a traditional ship before. Under Helene’s guidance, everyone was able to quickly learn the ropes and join together in sailing this beautiful ship.

Denmark travel guide: Island Hopping in South Funen

Day 1:

As a general rule, Aron does not anchor in the Danish archipelago of South Funen, instead opting to moor on the islands themselves. This is due to the shallow waters and shifting sand bars found at anchor. We found mooring up on the islands is a far better option, as you explore at your own pace. As we waited for dinner, some walked to the island centre and some stayed on board, chatting or napping. The mornings mirrored this as early risers walked to catch the sunrise. Some of us went for a swim – even in September it was surprisingly warm, and those that preferred were able to have a lie in.

Aron does have a shower onboard but actually, none of us used it. The promise of onshore showers made us a little hesitant with memories of typical British shower blocks. But how wrong we were! To not use the Danish marina facilities would have meant missing out. The facilities were spacious and really clean with full working taps, showers and dryers – not a push button in sight. An abundance of hot water and of course, some were so efficient that we had sensor showers. So in the words of Gorm the skipper “as long as you keep dancing, you can keep the water coming”.

The sleepy island of Lyo was our first stop. The island is home to only about 80 inhabitants and a handful of cars. You can hire a bicycle to explore or just take a walk, it’s relatively flat to navigate. There’s a small local produce shop and artisan cafe in the “village centre” (about a 15 minute walk from the marina) selling the local honey made on the island. Traditional farmhouses nestle between the island’s five ponds, and ducks and chickens roam the tracks. The whitewashed 17th century church sits in the only circular graveyard in the whole of Denmark. Aron’s skipper Helene says the island is like stepping back in time for the Danish – beautiful to wander through and almost like being in a film set.

Day 2:

The weather forecast wasn’t “great” so a decision was made to Gorm and Helene’s hometown Troense on the island of Tasinge for some shelter. The weather was classically British on this day, with a bit of rain and some wind. However all this meant was full waterproofs and some excellent sailing!  

Manicured cottages line the waterfront of Troense with a blend of sensitively restored 17th century architecture and ancient apple trees. Electric cars glide around and some sparsely populated locals all pass with beaming smiles. There’s a real sense of an enriching life here, a community spirit with a strong sustainable approach to everything. Dotted around Troense were free apple boxes, local honey and produce traded over from the nearby islands.

Aron’s skippers and owners Helene and Gorm both grew up here and are keen to network local trade between the islands. For this they offer their small cargo hold on board for free produce swaps. They don’t do this for financial gain but to give back, working with the local population to enrich the lives of the community for generations to come. Troense also offers brilliant harbour facilities which we made full use of. There are open-fronted cabins with comfortable benches, communal BBQs and even a sauna!

Day 3:

By this point we were a well-oiled machine with everyone hoisting sails, coiling ropes and taking turns on the helm. We set sail from Troense to reach the fairytale  island of Aero. On the East of the island is Marstal, the official home port of Aron, where she was built in 1906! 

The town is, by Danish standards, livelier than the other islands, with some coffee shops, waterside restaurants and artisan cocktail bars. The highlight of the island for any nautical lovers is certainly the self-funded Marstal Maritime Museum. Spread over a few buildings, it’s a time capsule of local maritime history, from the very first wooden cargo ships built in Marstal quay, to the advance of steam power and evolving cargo trade history. 

The entire museum has been curated by retired seaman and their families, and is still run by a team of volunteers. It’s a beautifully put together display of artefacts, photos and paintings with a large collection of Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen, a popular 19th century Danish maritime painter. The owners of Aron can organise a discounted group ticket so if it’s something you’re interested in, just let them know! 

We had time to explore the town too – with some lovely shops. Seeing the sensitive curation of Danish design was a real joy. You really start to understand the slow paced, relaxed living notion of hygge that the country is famous for. 

Day 4:

Another morning of good sailing and lunch underway. Some of the guests sat and read a book, some climbed the rigging to the top of the mast! 

We explored the island of Skaro and it’s one we were most looking forward to. In the summer months there’s a small bustling campsite and tiny marina for small boats, but in September it’s very peaceful. 

The island has a declining population of about 30 people, and probably a similar ratio of chickens and sheep. Remarkably the island of Skaro is famous in Denmark for their ice cream factory, made using natural sugars from birch trees and seaweed. They export the ice cream across Denmark, supplying local hospitals and diabetes centres. They have a small cafe in the centre of the island and you can watch the ice cream being made and of course, the bit we were most looking forward to – trying it first hand!

Our last morning took us on a slow sail back to Svendborg. Helene made us a traditional Smørrebrød (originally smør og brød, “butter and bread”) underway and we sailed back into the harbour. Another round of coffee and cake as everyone chatted about the voyage. All of us felt inspired to slow down, consider our sustainability and dream about more sailing. We all said our goodbyes and trundled back to the train station.

If this Denmark travel guide has inspired you to start your own adventure in South Funen, why not take a look at our sailing holidays on board Aron of Svendborg? Aron’s voyages range from a few days short break island hopping, to week long summer sailing adventures, and are perfect for solo travellers, couples, families and friends.