Island Hopping in the Bahamas
Island hopping in the Bahamas, especially in the Exumas and Abacos chain of islands are very enjoyable and relaxing. There a literally hundreds of islands to explore and the distances between them are virtually minutes. Generally we will sail a few hours a day in the morning, and put some distance between the last island, this way we can explore all up and down the cays. The day on a sailboat usually starts at sunrise, 7am most times of the year. Breakfast either underway or before we raise anchor, depending how many hours we will be sailing that day. On longer passages we will have lunch under way as well. This is the best use of time, and makes the time pass quicker before we drop anchor at our next island destination. We then have the rest of the afternoon to explore the new island setting by dinghy or swim ashore, get some snorkelling in, hike the island, look for shells and new island creatures. Recently we purchased a metal detector for the boat, and now we can look for those hidden pirate treasures from centuries gone by, or the recent modern visitors who may have lost some coins or a very expensive ring from those poor mega yachters!
Passage making or island hopping in the Bahamian cays can be done inside the cays, on the leeward side, protected from the ocean swells, waves and prevailing winds. Our boat draws almost 7 feet, and we are able to stay on the inside about 80% of the time, there are certain passages we can only accomplish on the outside, like from Cave Cay to Georgetown Exuma. There are a few places in the Abacos we have to pass on the outside. But for the most part we are able to have a relaxing sail on the inside. Often people ask us can you cruise the Bahamas with a deep keel draft. The answer is yes of course! On our first cruise down here for about 3-4 months, we never touched bottom once. It just means anchoring a little further offshore than others, and taking the deep draft route on the cruising guides, which may take a little longer, avoiding risky short cuts. Now being self proclaimed experts on cruising the Bahamas, LOL – NOT! We will be learning for the rest of our lives! That is the beauty of this sport! However, we are way more confident now and take a few more chances, and touch bottom a few more times. LOL. But in the Bahamas for the most part, you are only touching a bit of sand! Don’t ever take risks or chances entering or exiting the cuts. Read my article on that at this link. http://www.sailboatcruise.ca/2014/01/23/navigating-cuts-keys-cays-bahamas/ Also do keep an eye on the tides, are you on a rising or receding tide, high or low tide. It will be the determining factor on how easily or long it might take you to get free of your grounding. But the best practice if you are navigating in tight quarters is to drop your boat speed to a snails pace, then you will be able to easily back out of the situation.
Navigating in the Bahamas, the best and only charts I would recommend are the Explorer Charts! http://www.explorercharts.com These are the most accurate. In fact, way more accurate than my Raymarine chart plotter. There are no accurate charts you can get for the Raymarine right now, other manufactures do sell the Explorer Charts for their equipment. So I use the chart plotter just as a general reference, or when offshore. I use the Vessel GPS Coordinates for plotting on my Explorer Paper Charts. Especially when entering the cuts, or on the inside near shoals, reefs, sandbars, or getting ready to anchor. Plot on your paper charts frequently, more frequently in close quarters, assign this task to another crew member. Or you read out the Lat and Long and have someone else plot it.
Alex enjoys checking out the other boats with his binoculars …Here he spys a couple of Mega yachts, the White is a 240 foot yacht called “4 You”, large by any standards. But the Dark Blue one is called “Seven Seas” 280ft $200 Million dollars and is owned by Stephen Spilberg. We got up real close, and sailed right by her. Check this site for more shots, including interior and some famous people on board. We spent New Years at Staniel Cay, and the island puts on an amazing New Years celebration, with fire works and all. But can you believe that the Mega yacht “Seven Seas” had their own fireworks show, that was probably better than the one put on by the island! They were anchored just offshore of the island, and we got to enjoy both shows from our vantage point. Why not, let the millionaire put on the show, and let us enjoy it for free!
Photo by Ed Radonic
Photo by Ed Radonic
On our passages on the inside routes there are virtually no waves or swells, and a gentle breeze just enough to get maximum boat speed, and maintain a manageable heel for the admiral. These are very relaxing and enjoyable. Have some tunes playing, a couple of drinks, auto-pilot helming, kick back and relax, and work on your tan! On the outside we will also throw out the deep sea fishing rods and see what we can catch! The average depth of the Bahamas around the islands and the inside of the islands is about 10 feet. On the outside around the islands it is around 50-60 feet, but then a drastic drops to over 1,000 feet, and a bit offshore, you will easily find, 3,000 to 10,000 feet as we have seen on our sail from NYC. The best fishing is at the drop off from 50 feet to the deeper depths.