First, we headed out under power from Ft. Worth Inlet, weaving around a number of ships and tugs that seemed out to get us as they made their way up and down the East Coast. We rounded Memory Rock during the day, marveling at the change of water color from deep ocean blue to shallow teal green, and anchored off Great Sale Cay. From there we stopped at several uninhabited islands as we made our way down to Green Turtle Cay where we checked in with the Bahamian Customs office.
Paperwork For us, checking in to the Bahamas was a straightforward affair, and we knew that we had arrived in ‘island time’ when we found the Customs office empty and waited for an hour or so until the agent showed up. That was OK with us, since we’re not really in a hurry anymore, and checking in was the mission of the day. Veterans of this lifestyle hold that while cruising you can consider yourself fortunate to get one errand accomplished each day. Laundry, groceries, or even a phone call can consume the day by the time you’ve checked the weather, dinghied ashore, and traipsed across town only to find that whatever shop, laundromat, or phone company office has closed for the next couple of hours. You just never know what’s going to happen, which is part of the attraction of cruising to begin with, but something that always leaves you open for frustration should you still be operating within a 9:00-to-5:00 mindset.
At customs we filled out paperwork that seemed a little dated. We had to answer questions like how many people had died during the voyage, what we did with them, and were there an above average number of dead rats on board—all a reminder that we live in different times and are lucky to do so. The charge for checking in is a flat fee of $100.00 US, which can also be paid in Bahamian dollars because of the even exchange rate. This fee covers all Customs and Immigrations charges and includes the cruising permit and fishing license. It was a relatively painless endeavor for us, and one cruiser told us that when he checked in at West End, a custom agent riding a bicycle met him. They completed the paperwork and then that official offered the new arrival a rum-based beverage.
Navigation Any new cruising ground takes some getting used to and we’ve seen several boats run aground in the past several weeks. We’ve even touched bottom ourselves a time or two. We’ve found that the navigational markers and navigational aids are few and far between, though we have seen a few lights here and there marking the entrances to major harbors, one lighthouse, and a number of stakes in shallow areas. The water is clear and with the sun overhead, the depths can be estimated with reasonable accuracy.
We’ve been fortunate thus far in our weather here, which the locals say has been one of the nicest winter just about anyone can remember. For over a month a strong high-pressure area has been parked just to the north. This has acted as an invisible shield, keeping the cold fronts and their inclement weather tracking north of this chain of islands. The forecast has been for east-to-southeast winds of 10 to 15 knots for a long succession of windy and sunlit days. And that’s great because weather plays no small role as we anticipate heading farther south in the Caribbean and there seem to be fewer NOAA VHF weather stations with the latest weather reports. Also, although the weather has been more than cooperative so far, it’s whimsical nature means that ignoring it, even for a day, can set you up for some hard-learned lessons in meteorological prudence. Even as I write the next several days are forecast to bring a succession of cold fronts blasting through, which will likely make for bumpy nights on the hook.
To keep on top of things we monitor the weather twice daily, morning and night, from several different sources. Each day we begin by listening to the Waterway Net on our single side band, 7268 on lower sideband, which relays both the latest Bahamas and National Weather Service forecasts. The only way to really make sense of these is to write the forecasts down in their entirety and then spend the rest of breakfast plotting cold fronts, ridges, troughs and wind speed and direction on the chart. We’ve made photocopies of the region solely for this purpose. Then there’s the Cruiser’s Net on VHF Channel 68 every morning, which provides weather information as well as analysis. In addition to weather, it’s also a valuable resource to cruisers new to the area as it tracks down mail, Internet access, or boat parts as well as daily specials at nearby restaurants and other social activities.
On board Althea we don’t have refrigeration so fresh produce is eaten fast or it tends to rot right away. We had a cucumber melt on us in a record two days. We’ve also weaned ourselves off of ice, which at $4.00 a block with a day-and-a-half lifespan represents a luxury for our limited economic resources. In keeping with that frugal outlook, any fish we catch quickly moves onto the menu. We have learned, though, that a great way to make sure that you’re not going to catch any fish is to plan on having that for your next meal.
All in all the Abacos have lived up to the raving reviews we got from those that had visited before us. "You have to have a real desire to see another part of the world to leave this area,’ one cruiser confided, and indeed there’s just about everything you need here for great cruising. We’d heard a lot of hype regarding the Bahamas before our trip and carried the reserve of someone heading off to take in ‘must see’ movie. Well we’re here to give it two thumbs and toes up. There’s just enough civilization that you can still get parts and supplies, yet a short day sail away you can find yourself anchored with a mere handful of boats off an uninhabited island and steady winds to carry your vessel back and forth. If you’re thinking about trying out some new cruising grounds that are reasonably accessible from most of the southern US, a cruiser’s paradise may be closer than you think.
Anchoring in Paradise
These days it’s not unusual for us to sail off the hook and only start the engine after we’ve dropped the anchor and want to back it down, which is usually pretty easy to accomplish in these crystal-clear waters, particularly if your boat isn’t over 40 feet long. Of course if you want to keep the air clear of diesel noise, you can do as we do—put the hook down, pay out some scope, and then just don a mask and snorkel and hop over the side to make sure the hook is set.
Day Sailing the Thorny Path by Tom WoodRegatta Time is Party Time in the Abacos by Doran Cushing
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