Join us for a swim in one of the most magical attractions – Thunderball Grotto Bahamas. Determine if you know how to treat your anchor and ground tackle with respect. And sail with us from Pig Beach to Iguana Beach where we become surrounded by hundreds of lizards. Read on…
While anchored off Pig Beach we were a short distance away from one of the Bahama’s best natural attractions – Thunderball Grotto. Not only is the grotto full of colored coral reefs, high caverns, and beautiful fish but we also happened upon a nurse shark!
Upon arrival by dinghy to the grotto, your eyes would tell you that it’s just a tiny island or perhaps a big rocky area that has grown out of the sea. Surrounded by other islands it really doesn’t look like much of anything.
The grotto’s charm is heightened by the small, almost hidden entrance.
It is advised to enter at low or slack tide. We went several times and therefore were able to sample the grotto under different conditions. At slack tide, or when the tide is not running, you’ll easily enjoy the view. Unfortunately, everyone in the surrounding area is also there to enjoy the easy swim.
We also went during a running tide making our swim maneuvers a bit more strained but it was worth it to see the Grotto without loads of other tourists. We also went in the sun and rain – both offering great views. In fact, during rainy times, it can be the best time to visit tourist attractions – we’re often the only people there!
One of the guide books I read mentioned that you can’t snorkel at high tide – the water is too high. This was not our experience but to avoid disappointment, go when the tide is lower rather than higher.
The Grotto got its name from the 1965 James Bond spy film “Thunderball,” which was filmed there. It was also the site of another James Bond film, “Never Say Never Again” in 1983, also based on the Thunderball novel. “Splash” starring Tom Hanks and “Into the Blue” with Jessica Alba and Paul Walker were also filmed at Thunderball Grotto. And as a side note, Johnny Depp, Oprah, and Faith Hill all have islands nearby.
There are several entrances where people can swim through the holes to get into the cavern inside.
Some of the tunnels are underwater and you have to swim through a short overhang and hold your breath for a few seconds until you come out the other end. Everywhere that I went I could freely use my snorkel. The only thing that bothered me slightly was that I had to be careful not to bump my head on the rock above me.
Our seven-year-old daughter, Sienna, enjoyed the Grotto immensely. She would have benefited from having a wet suit, as the water was cool during the month of February. I was slightly worried about the current on one occasion but my husband and I simply took turns holding onto Sienna.
And what’s this about the shark?
Unbelievably I’ve seen sharks at every anchorage we’ve had in the Bahamas. After sailing around this planet for four years I’ve only ever seen one shark and it was a sleeping nurse shark. I saw my first shark during a dive so I just assumed they stayed deep.
Well…in the Bahamas if you don’t see a shark every day you’re just not looking.
Simon swam with a 15’ Hammerhead shark the first day we arrived in the Bahamas (make sure to read/watch Swimming With The Pigs In The Bahamas). At Cape Eleuthera Marina I saw three bull sharks; those are the ones you need to watch out for. And in and around Pig Beach we saw several nurse sharks.
Nurse sharks won’t hurt you. In fact, I’m not even sure they have teeth. They seem to have more of a suckermouth. Regardless, their eyes are white and it really freaks me out when I look at them.
Back to Thunderball Grotto…
There are great fish, amazing views from inside the cavern and if you’re very adventurous you can climb to the top of the rocky island and jump into the middle of the Grotto. The drop is around 20’ to 25’. Both my husband and our volunteer crew member, Andrew, did the jump several times. If you ask them what it was like they’d both agree that it was a rush.
When visiting the caverns, bring some bread in a bag. If you feed the fish you can create a flurry of beautiful colors and movements.
Thunderball Grotto Takeaways
- Check the tide before you go and if you want an easier time, go when it’s not running (1/2 hour either side of the slack tide). It’s also easier if you have flippers. And this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – if it’s rough weather, there’s a swell or you see lightning it’s not the place to go.
- If you get cold easily (like me), wear a wetsuit. It will allow you to stay longer.
- If the weather is not-so-good, go as it’s still worth it. In fact, if it’s raining you’ll probably be the only one there!
- Bring your GoPro or similar underwater camera.
- Make sure your dinghy anchor is in the dinghy as you’ll have to anchor in about 15’ of water.
- On the dinghy ride to the Grotto keep an eye out for sea creatures. We happened upon several very large stingrays and some more sharks.
- Before you go, watch all the movies that have Thunderball Grotto in them.
After thoroughly enjoying Pig Beach and Thunderball Grotto for three days we lifted anchor and sailed down to Leaf Cay. Just off of Leaf Cay there’s a beach filled with Iguanas. We had to investigate.
Our passage from the pigs to the iguanas was relatively uneventful. We had to motor most of the time due to lack of wind. Sailors don’t like to motor but in some cases, it can be just as scenic and relaxing.
On this particular day, we motored out as the radiant sun was rising.
In the video, I explained how we pull our anchor up. If you’re not an avid sailor you might think that pulling up an anchor is one of the easy tasks. Well, it’s not. I’ve seen so many inexperienced boaters think that you press a button, up comes the anchor and jobs done.
Your anchor and your windlass, the mechanism that pulls or winches up the anchor, are precious pieces of kit. Treat them poorly and you’ll suffer! What is the poor treatment?
- Putting the winch under too much load forcing the anchor out of the mud/sand. The anchor needs to be eased up rather than forced up. You can also put the windlass under too much stress if you fail to move the boat over the top of the anchor. The windlass should not be used to reel you in. The Captain needs to move the boat to a position where it makes the windlass’s job easy.
- Failing to use a bridle or snubber. The bridle or snubber take the weight of the chain/anchor and pull of the boat off the windless and displace it to the whole boat. This ultimately relieves the windless from being the only mechanism holding the boat to the anchor. When I see people anchor without a snubber I shake my head in disbelief. Usually, the boat owner just doesn’t know any better.
- Finally, it’s a poor treatment to your ground tackle if you allow the anchor to come flying up to the bow of the boat and through the anchor chain plate without caressing it in. Going full speed ramming the anchor back on the bow is not a good idea. The anchor can hit the hull or the furling/forestay gear.
After softly caressing our anchor back onto the boat, we motored towards Iguana Beach.
The waters were shallow as we made our way into the area. Andrew stood on the bow making sure we didn’t pass any coral heads or get too shallow.
When a suitable anchoring spot was discovered, we set down the anchor, hopped in the dinghy and went out in search of Iguanas.
To our delight, we were the only people on Iguana Beach. At first, it looked fake as the iguana’s lined the beach but didn’t move. They were all frozen. We didn’t know what to expect when we pulled the dinghy up on the beach.
Would the Iguana’s come up to us? Would they run away?
As we walked along the beach they started to move and act as if our presence wasn’t a big deal. I assume that tourist boats probably frequent the beach and feed them. Simon was able to scratch their heads and one of them ran over my feet! I screamed – of course. I’m such a scaredy-cat.
Within 30 seconds of being on the beach, however, we all started itching. There was an onslaught of sand fleas eating us up. We could barely go one second without slapping them off or itching.
Needless to say, we didn’t stay long.
Right across from Iguana Beach there’s a snorkeling spot so we all headed for refuge from the fleas.
The snorkeling was ‘okay’ but the tide was just too fast. I couldn’t hold Sienna and swim fast enough to beat it. Andrew went up ahead and when he returned, Simon and I went to take a look. There were some really nice coral formations and lovely fish.
After a full day, we were all tired, hungry and ready for ‘family movie night.’ We ate beef stew that I made in the Solar Cooker (and froze) while watching Guardians of the Galaxy II. Can you think of a more perfect day?
Little did we know, however, that disaster and I mean DISASTER would strike the following day. While leaving Iguana Beach we started taking on water. And it wasn’t just a little water – it was Niagara Falls.
Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get notification of my next article about our disaster. Perhaps if you learn by our mishaps you can avoid them when you’re out sailing?!
Thunderball Grotto & Iguana Beach Video
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