A young Bahamian entrepreneur is making waves with a new tour company, shuttling enthusiastic tourists from Nassau to Exuma's internationally-famed swimming pigs.
Lee McCoy said the idea behind this rather different venture came about last year, after his wife asked him to search online for ideas for activities they could partake in during their forthcoming honeymoon in the UK.
As McCoy searched, he came across several companies which offer popular, high speed cruises up and down the Thames River on unique rubber boats - known as “RIBS”.
"My wife wasn't too pleased when I turned planning for our honeymoon into researching a new business opportunity but as soon as I saw them I knew it had tons of potential for The Bahamas," said McCoy, also president of local steel building construction company, TMC Engineering Ltd.
“We ended up taking a demo ride in Southampton (England) on a 2009 Parker 900 Baltic with a passenger setup similar to what we wanted. It turned out to be for sale, and we ended up purchasing the boat.”
Being such an unlikely sight and one that - despite local lore - remains seemingly inexplicable, Exuma's swimming pigs have become an international sensation, drawing press globally.
Travel + Leisure magazine put the porkers on their "bucket list", The Huffington Post labeled them "adorable", while the New York Post ran a special feature entirely on how to swim with pigs in The Bahamas. The Ministry of Tourism soon caught on, and now celebrates The Bahamas as the "Official home of the Swimming Pigs."
Despite all of this notoriety, up until the launch of Harbour Safaris, there was no operator consistently taking bookings for Nassau-based visitors to see the animals. The only way to see the pigs was to fly to Exuma and book in with one of the companies which visits Big Majors from a local settlement.
While such tours have grown in popularity, they also involve booking a flight to Exuma and an overnight stay or a long travel day – the costs quickly add up to significantly more than the Nassau-based full-day excursion.
"I knew there was a business opportunity with the pigs and luckily, despite some challenges with the weather over the Christmas period, we've found the demand is there. We're happy to say that reviews so far have been extremely positive," said McCoy.
In addition to operating tours to see the swimming pigs, which involves customers being transported at high speed to Big Major Cay before being brought back to Nassau via Staniel Cay and Allen's Cay, home of the Bahamian iguanas, Harbour Safaris also offers exhilarating tours of Nassau Harbour, and a shorter North Exuma tour.
Luckily the boat had come preconfigured with everything needed – including twin Mercury Verado 250 horsepower engines, GPS and electronics, and ocean-going safety gear. All new auto-inflate lifejackets were purchased and delivered with the vessel.
"The great thing about offering the trip to see the swimming pigs is that it not only allows us to showcase these unique creatures but also gives us a chance to show off the Exuma chain to more visitors. To see the reaction on peoples' faces when they see the colour of the water around the cays is such a great feeling. They come for the pigs, but it's the islands and the water that add the extra 'wow' factor," said McCoy.
Harbour Safaris is wholly Bahamian owned and all of its' employees are Bahamian. The company has hired two full time employees, an operations manager and a captain, and has several first-mates depending on the tour and their availability. McCoy has recently hired an office manager to assist with operating both TMC Engineering and Harbour Safaris, and looks forward to expanding both companies as demand grows.