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Cruising on Island Time – Part 1

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March 6, 2020

Getting there and checking in

Have you been lucky enough to visit the beautiful and diverse islands that make up the Bahamas, by boat? We love cruising the amazing waters of the Bahamas, and exploring the islands and cays. It is always difficult to leave the Bahamas, but the amazing memories created on every trip get us through the wait until we return on the next trip!

Did you know the Bahamas are comprised of 700 islands and over 2,000 rocks and cays?[1] During the Summer of 2019, Hurricane Dorian hit two areas of the Bahamas, Grand Bahama and The Abacos, really hard and caused a lot of damage, and sadly casualties, there. But the Bahamians are resilient and are rebuilding. The other islands were not impacted, and the Bahamians need our help, if nothing else at least through the money we spend while cruising there, so go visit!

There are so many beautiful places to visit in the Bahamas, so I am just going to touch on some of my favorites, within ‘cruising distance’ of Florida, including for those of us not fortunate enough (yet) to cruise full time (meaning, we must still go back to ‘real life’!). These destinations can be combined in different itineraries for the most amazing cruising breaks in paradise! I will focus on the Berry Islands, the northern Exumas (as far south as Black Point), and Eleuthera and Harbour Island.

In preparation for your crossing to the Bahamas, there are several very helpful resources you will want to consult. First, you will need to get good and up-to-date charts. Many of the areas you will be cruising in the Bahamas are notoriously shallow, and there are rocks and coral heads in many places (usually well charted). We use both Explorer Chartbooks on the Aquamaps application on an iPad, and Navionics charts on our Raymarine MFDs. In our experience, the Explorer Charts tend to be more accurate for the Bahamas. The Waterway Guide for the Bahamas (currently on the 2020 edition) is also a great cruising companion.

Weather conditions are a very important factor in both crossing to and from the Bahamas, and cruising around during your stay. Getting the most up-to-date and reliable information, and being able to interpret it, is crucial to safe and comfortable cruising. We like to use a combination of weather information sources, including the PredictWind and Windy applications, and a subscription to Chris Parker’s weather forecast service.[2] Of course, weather, crossing, and cruising conditions depend on a multitude of factors, many specific to your personal circumstances (your capabilities, your boat’s capabilities, your navigational equipment, the size of your boat, speed, sail or power, level of comfort, etc.), but as a general rule of thumb, do not cross between the Bahamas and the US when there is a northern component in the wind as this will run in opposite direction of the (in)famous Gulf Stream current, making for some rough seas and uncomfortable travel conditions.

There are also a number of Facebook groups that cover cruising in the Bahamas, and members post about anything relevant to the cruising experience from weather, cruising and crossing conditions, to finding “buddy boats” to travel with, anchorages (protection, holding, how busy they are), current conditions in the cuts, provisioning and restaurants, warnings or recommendations for example for fuel or water availability and quality, how and where to get (online) orders delivered, or just to share stories about their cruising experiences.

Depending on the weather conditions, weather forecast, and our mood, we like to check in either in Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands, or at Atlantis Marina on Paradise Island (Nassau, New Providence).[3] Arriving in the Bahamas you will need to raise the Yellow Quarantine Flag. In both of these locations, customs and immigration officers will come to your boat. In other locations, the captain (and only the captain) will need to go to the customs and immigration office to check in. Once you have checked in, cleared customs and immigration and have paid for the cruising permit and other fees that may apply, you can take down the quarantine flag and replace it with the Bahamas Courtesy Flag, and you will be free to get off the boat.[4]

Great Harbor Cay is a laid-back destination, with a very protected harbor, and minimal facilities and amenities. It’s great for quiet exploration, by bike, rented golf cart/Jeep, or walking. You can spend an entire day exploring and not meet anyone.

Nassau on the other hand is a bustling city, and the capital of the Bahamas, with lots of choices of marinas. Nassau is often seen as a ‘necessary evil’ by many cruisers, but we generally like to stop at Atlantis[5] for a few days to enjoy the amazing pool amenities (Aquaventures[6] – to which entrance is included with your marina stay – features 11 pools and several fun – and scary – slides, a rapid river, a lazy river, and more), the restaurants (Nobu is our favorite restaurant onsite in Atlantis, and there are several great restaurants in Nassau too), the aquariums, and even just getting a coffee in Marina Village and “people-watch”.

We also enjoy walking through the marina, admiring the beautiful yachts, and catching up with cruising friends as, invariably, there is always someone we know in the marina at the same time. Nassau offers also some great options for re-provisioning (for example, Solomon’s Fresh Market and Super Value). Planning your provisions carefully will help you save some money as groceries can be very expensive in the Bahamas.[7] You can also get fuel in both Great Harbor Cay (one option) and in Nassau (several options).

[5] The Las Vegas of marinas as I like to call it. As a matter of fact, it does also have a casino.

[6] https://www.atlantisbahamas.com/things-to-do/aquaventure-water-park

[7] Check out this article for some provisioning tips and tricks: https://cruisingsea.com/provisioning-in-the-bahamas-top-tips/

Now that you have checked in, you are ready to go cruising and exploring!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, coming soon!

Follow my journey @yachtambassador

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