Cruising to the Bahamas
Published: Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Last year we took our 54’ Navigator power boat from Lake Erie to Florida and brought it back without venturing anywhere. Not this year. The Palm Beach Boat Show was the last we would exhibit at for the year. It ended on a Sunday and we were watching the weather to see when we could cross to the Bahamas. But, first we had to get ready. We had an EPRIB and an offshore inflatable lifeboat and we added a reverse osmosis water-maker. I made a trip to the store for fruit and vegetables as well as meat that I vacuum sealed and froze. We had heard that fresh foods were hard to come by in the islands so I stocked up as much as I could use before it would spoil and had canned for the rest.
I called Customs to see what we needed to return to the U. S. - the Documentation or Registration number, Transponder number, and Passport numbers for each person. They gave me a Small Vessel Check-in phone number too. All this is on their web site.
Next, I contacted Old Bahama Bay at West End on Grand Bahama Island, our entry point, and made a reservation for Thursday night. They advised us to have $300.00 cash for Customs, a yellow quarantine flag to fly before we are cleared, and a Bahama flag to fly after. In the meantime, I also pulled out a bit more cash than they had suggested, in addition to the customs fee. The Bahamas currency is on par with the US Dollar and I was sure there would be places that did not take credit cards. Our “Looper” insurance covered us in the Bahamas with no additional riders; our Boat/US tow policy was up to date; and we were well stocked with sunscreen. We got an extra 5-gallon can for regular gas for the inflatable as that is our exploring vessel.
By mid-morning Thursday, we were on our way. There was no N in the wind direction. Because the Gulf Stream was heading north at about 4 or 5 knots, any wind out of the North churned it up pretty fast. We had a due east wind so it was on our nose as we left Lake Worth inlet. Our speed was about 15 knots (17 mph) so it took almost 4 hours to cross. The waves were about 1 foot and close together, much like Lake Erie, so we had no trouble. We arrived and the dock hands helped us get tied up. They provided the customs forms and we filled them out as best we could. Since it was a few days before “high season”, Customs was not too busy and they helped us fill out the form.
Q: “What did you bring?”
A: “Food enough for the voyage.”
We also listed our inflatable and motor, and bicycles. Paddle boards, kayaks, jet skis, etc. all had to be listed with sizes and horsepower. We paid the money and, just like that, we were in for up to 90 days. The entry even included a fishing pass. The receipt would need to be mailed back within 90 days of entry but, with a 3 week max plan of staying, that was not going to be a problem.
This is pretty much as much planning as we had done. We watched the weather and looked at the charts and took it a day at a time. We had paper charts, the onboard Garmin, Navionics and Active Captain on the tablet. We used all of them including GRIBview, which is an app to show wind and waves out 6 days. One thing we learned is that when the chart shows “cay”, it is pronounced “key”.
We had seen pictures of the blue water but it was still spectacular. The white sand is what makes the water look so blue. We quickly learned that the darkness of the water told you where the deeper water was… unless it was a cloud! We drew 5’ so we keep an eye on the depth and watched the tides. There was a 2 ½ to 3 foot tide across the Bahamas and some cuts could be a little dicey if the tide was moving. The islands have been known to be treacherous throughout history because the shallows are ringed by islands and between them are deep waters 3000 to 8000 feet deep. This water was the deepest blue and I am sure it is where the description “Navy Blue” comes from.
It is possible to cruise the Bahamas for quite a long time at a fairly modest cost. We met several sail boaters that had been there for 3 or 4 months. Once we were across, we kept our speed to 8 knots and just sipped our fuel. With the inflatable, anchoring out was the way to go. On sandy bottoms, our claw anchor held great even on the night we had 30+ mph winds. It did not do as well in thick weeds though. That was a good place for a Danforth or something with sharp points to pierce through the stems. We tried but watching the Garmin, we could see we were slipping as we swung back and forth, so we opted for the marina that night.
There were a lot of the big 100’+ yachts anchored with the catamarans and classic sailboats. There were also resorts that cater to these yachts and there is usually a dinghy dock so you can still shop and dine. They also had stores well stocked with fresh foods and fresh made bread but the prices were higher because everything had to be brought in. The restaurant menus had everything they make in the whole year so what was available when you ordered may be much less than shown.
The local people were all very friendly with at least a smile and a wave. We felt safe everywhere we went including Nassau and Freeport. There were turtles, rays, sharks, and dolphins. Iguanas, chickens, and sandy beaches. Blue water and blue holes. Plus, so many stars you could lose the dippers. It was hard to leave it all behind, but I am sure we will be back.