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Old 02-26-2001
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Daysailing the Thorny Path

I own a 1972 Bristol 35 that I'd like to take from Maine to our new home in the US Virgin Islands, but I don't have the time or money to sail it there myself. Instead, I thought I’d truck the boat to Florida, ease down the ICW, and daysail through the Bahamas via the Thorny Path to the Virgin Islands in early May. Even though the sails are old, this should be a prudent way to go since I wouldn’t have as much wear and tear and there are plenty of places to duck into. How long do you think it would take jumping solid daylight runs down through the Bahamas?

Tom Wood responds:

Whoa! Let me get this straight. You've got a 29-year-old boat with doubtful rigging and sails and you're trying to decide between a 2,000-mile and 1,000-mile open ocean passage.

Forget the time and money. If days and cash are tight, you should spend what little you have upgrading the boat and then sail it directly from Maine. The cost in terms of days lost and dollars spent to decommission the boat, truck it from Maine to Florida, and re-commission it in the Sunshine State will be as much as doing the work and having a pleasant sail.

My main concern is the attitude that a jaunt from Florida to the Virgin Islands along the Thorny Path is just an idle daysail from one point to the next. While May and June are probably the two nicest months for sailing in this area with almost no threat of an early-season hurricane, the prevailing winds can still be relatively brisk and straight out of the east to southeast—the exact direction you would be headed. It is also the early part of their thunderstorm season and if you haven’t witnessed one of these, you have never yet had your heart in your throat. Unless you are uncommonly lucky, you can expect major waits for good weather anywhere along the path, beginning with a decent Gulfstream crossing. One of our previous cruising boats, a 35-foot Fuji, named Cirrus II, which is very similar to your Bristol, was taken totally airborne beating into 30-plus knots of wind and a 15-foot sea off the Turks and Caicos—in April.

In fact, there are many stretches in the Bahamas that call for overnight or 24-hour passages. The reason that George Town in the Exumas is often derisively called "Chicken Harbor" is that every spring, many would-be Caribbean adventurers call it quits there and head back to Florida rather than face the long, lonely stretches of North Atlantic to get to the Virgins.

From George Town to Mayaguana is a 24 to 30-hour trip in your boat with only the dubious harbors of eastern Long Island, Crooked and Acklins, and the Plana Keys between—none very good in a storm. Crossing the Caicos Banks cannot be accomplished in anything less than settled weather. Another overnighter to Puerto Plata. Yet another from Puerto Plata to Samana before the morning katabatic winds start to howl. And a 30-plus hour trip across the Mona Passage to Mayaquez, Puerto Rico. The south shore of Puerto Rico is all-night work to stay out of the strong mid-day winds. All of this possibly beating into strong winds and large seas.

Is it always this way? No, sometimes it’s is very nice sailing. But would I personally set off on the Thorny Path on a boat that I knew needed some work? No way!

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