The Bahamas are southeast of SW Florida. You can plan your trip by going south from Marco to Marathon and then North to Miami to make your crossing to the SE through the Gulf Stream. Leaving for the Bahamas from the east cost of Florida or returning to Florida, the Gulf Stream is the most important consideration for any boat. The Stream is a river about 45 miles wide. Even though you can not see the Stream it is always there flowing northward on average about 2.5 knots day and night. When you attempt to make your crossing, make sure you know the present weather conditions as well as what to expect in the next 12-24 hrs. Also always plan your departure to or return from in daylight. Do not set out in any adverse weather conditions and be very wary of any winds from the north. Check with NOAA on your VHF or if you are working with a weather guru such as Chris Parker for a forecast and conditions before time of departure.
From our area, we go to Miami across to Gun Cay Cut to cross to the southern Berry Islands at Chub Key, then down “The Tongue of the Ocean” to Nassau Harbor. We usually leave before nightfall, travel all night to arrive in daylight. Once you arrive in Nassau Harbor call “Nassau Harbor Control” on your VHF. You bring your vessel ashore and tie up outside their office and go in with your papers. He will ask for your information such as boat name and registration number. Also remember to call Nassau Harbor Control when you leave as well. You will then proceed to your destination. When you are settled, dinghy into the harbor master’s office with you papers and your location at anchor and give them to the harbor master.
For all the current information, you will need updated charts as a swift current could have altered things. At this point, I would like to digress a bit and share with you one of our last adventures in Nassau Harbor. We and friends from another boat took our dinghies and went to town. While we were in a grocery store a huge storm tore through Nassau Harbor. We were in a taxi trying to get back to our boat in the harbor. This short ride took over an hour because of flooded streets. When we finally returned after the storm abated, we looked in the anchorage and ourboat was gone! Our friend’s boat was also nowhere to be found at this point. Make a long story short, one of the two boats’ anchor broke free and ran into the other boat. Both boats were up anchored and dragged. After looking around a few minutes we found our boat which had been rescued by another boat and the captain had us secured safely to his boat. Our friends’ boat was way down near the bridge and some one in an outboard was trying to tow it to safety.
The reason that I digressed is to let you know that no matter what your skills are or your years afloat, things happen. You have to constantly check and re-check your location and your boat’s condition.
I have written briefly about Nassau before and will continue to write about the islands down the Exuma chain at a later time. It is best that you buy current guide books and charts for the areas that you want to cruise. True, some things stay the same and never seem to change. However, you need to know just what changes may have taken place since your last visit to any destination. Up to date charts and guide books are really necessary. Also, “local knowledge” is always welcomed. What I mean by that is to talk to a friend or someone who recently came back from the area you plan to visit. Nowadays, with WiFi, cell phones, news sources, etc. you can research the path that you plan to take and update what you may need to know. Another great site for current information is: www.cruisersnet.net. Then just fill in the areas that you are interested in knowing more about.
If any of you are seriously planning an extended trip through the Exuma chain, please go to a good book store like Blue Water Book Store in Ft Lauderdale. Go on line at Amazon and look up books of personal experiences traveling this route or go to West Marine and browse their book shelves. Check and cross check since some guide books may not have been updated. Check publication dates as you want the most up to date guide available. There are some classics that may not have been updated, but are well worth reading for the Bahamas: Bruce Van Sant, Steve Padlidis, or Steve Dodge for the Abacos.
This should be your plan for cruising anywhere: Dream about it, read about it, plan for it and just do it.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.