CRUISING THE BAHAMAS - A SHORT PRIMER
CRUISING WAYPOINTS, SELECTED ANCHORAGES & MARINAS
These waypoints MUST be used only in conjunction with current charts of the area, and cross checked against other navigational methods such as soundings, navigational aids and bearings. Do not rely solely upon these waypoints, and don't use them at all unless you are able to fully navigate yourself. You are responsible for your own navigation. Remember, it's even possible that there are typographical errors on these pages - double check your navigation!
These pages are split into sections so they'll load faster on your computer.
This section is not meant to be exhaustive on Cruising the Bahamas. It's a start on getting you there. Bahamas cruising is great, but I'd like to share my bias with you. If you buy the Cruising Guides to the Bahamas you'll get listings of primarily Marinas and places to go shopping and spend money. If that's what you want - then great. That's NOT what I like about the Bahamas -- its the endless, open tropical seas with isolated beaches and remote anchorages, friendly people in the out islands, abundant marine life and mesmerizingly clear water - like your boat is floating on a glass tabletop poised well over the fish and bottom. You won't find these discussed much in the Cruising Guides. In fact the Cruising Guides don't discuss the Cay Sal Bank AT ALL! - Maybe because there are no facilities there, anyplace to spend money, and therefore no advertising sponsors for the cruising guides. An exception is the Exumas Cruising guide by Steve Pavlidis - it has LOTS of information on great out-of-the-way places. Of course, pick your own style of cruising. I just want you to know that you won't get much information on what I consider is the best cruising, because there's no money in it. We like to anchor out for days or a week or two at a time, then spend a couple days in a nice port to re-supply, refuel and splurge on a dinner or two out - then back out to remote anchorages
Bahamas Air-Sea Rescue Association (BASRA): no website - BASRA, PO Box SS6247, Nassau, Bahamas. Send $30 donation to help them maintain our safety net.
.Gulf Stream Crossing:
The time of year makes a significant difference. Summer is when the visibility is best and water the most calm. In the winter the seas kick up higher and more frequently. In the summer a forecast of of calm to light and variable winds will give you a great crossing. Leave first thing in the morning to minimize land-mass breezes and to sandbag some for making landfall by dark in case things go wrong and you get hung up. Unless you want to feel like you and your boat have been put through a blender, never cross when there is any northerly component to the wind (at least from S Florida to the Bahamas). The most common spots for jump off points from Florida are Stuart, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
There are several Bahamian ports of first approach from South Florida. Since many of the Islands are well inside the Bahamas bank, only the first portion of your crossing is actually in the Gulf Stream and the remainder is in the calmer waters of the Bahamas Bank. Bimini and S. Bimini is the closest being only 48 nm east of Miami. Cat Cay is 8 miles South of S. Bimini and is a smaller island with its own private club and customs check in. Walkers Cay is about 97 nm off Palm beach and is the most Northern Island in the Bahamas. Here the Gulf Stream is the first 50 some miles and the remainder is in the Bahamas Bank (average 12-20 feet).
Assess your safety equipment. Lifejackets, flares, fire extinguishers, etc. are standard equipment most boaters have anyway (and require). Even though your VHF is supposed to work only about 25 miles offshore, the antennas from the Coast Guard in S. Florida are VERY high and your chances of contacting them or Bahamas is very good all the way across the Gulf Stream. A Single Side Band or Ham radio is even better, plus useful while cruising the Bahamas, but is not absolutely necessary. Likewise a Satellite Telephone is an excellent safety device, and convenient for cruising use, but not necessary. A GPS, and even a handheld backup GPS is very convenient and almost everyone uses them. However I want to caution you again on being able to Navigate on your own if they bite the dust. You don't have to be pinpoint precise at dead reckoning but it's got to be workable to get you safely across if your GPS fails. A 406 MHz EPIRB is definitely worth considering. I frequently go across without one, but only because I don't have one, not because I wouldn't like it. Boat US has a rental program for its members if you don't want to spend the $1000 on an EPIRB. If you buy one ensure that its registered. At least a coastal life raft is another worthwhile consideration, but the practice of most people, including me, is to use your inflatable dinghy as the life raft for the crossing. We do make sure we put extra flares and supplies in the dinghy too. Quality flares are essential. Get at least the 25mm aerial flares - forget about relying on the 12ga flares. We carry the more expensive SOLAS flares including the parachute flares. If I'm sitting in an inflatable dinghy with my family in the middle of the night and see a freighter in the distance, I don't want to be thinking about the $80 I saved on flares by buying the cheap ones!
US Re-entry rules:
These have become really onerous since 9/11 and they change, so check them before you go.
Books and Charts: (Try looking at Blue Water Books and Charts to buy these)
Check back later - we'd like to go there to take pictures, gunkhole, get waypoints and make sketchcharts. It's just 30 miles North of Cuba, and about 60 miles South of the Keys. This is the most remote area of the Bahamas. You won't even find it listed in any Bahamas Boating Guides - plus chart11461 of the area is very large 1:300,000! (no detail - but try chart # 27087 for a larger scale chart). Though patrolled by the USCG (drug & Cuban smuggling), the Bahamians have no facilities or patrols here at all. The Cay Sal Bank has one of the highest concentrations of blue holes in the world and spectacular vertical walls for diving. It offers great snorkeling and diving. It is a popular fishing spot for US Fisherman making day trips to the banks from the Keys. The bank is about 37x53 nautical miles across the entire bank, and about 142 nm in circumference. It is comprised of 8 named Island groups and several unnamed ones. If you get there before we do, please send back some photos and specific notes on anchoring, cruising & fishing & we'll post them here.
Please take note that you FIRST have to check in with Bahamian customs and immigration, and there are NONE in the Cay Sal Bank. Closest are Bimini and Andros, so it's not practical (legally) to go directly from the Keys to the bank. Many fishing boats do, but it is illegal and you could lose your boat. You should write to Bahamian officials to encourage them to develop some mail-in permit system where you can pay a fee and get back a short term permit by mail, and then just go directly to the bank. In the interim your best bet might be to hook up with one of the commercial diving groups out of S. Florida that take you via liveaboard boat and check in along the way. However, if you've been in the Bahamas cruising for a while, it might be a good spot before you leave, and you could go straight on up to the Keys.
Boot Key Harbor website created and maintained by Capt.
Gregory T. Absten, Marathon. - A Boater's Guide to the Florida Keys & Cuba