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Bahamas Bound: First Time Voyaging South

Takeaways From Our First Trip To The Bahamas
By Rob J Geisler
Posted: 2023-06-13T18:00:58Z

Takeaways From Our First Trip To The Bahamas

We were finally able to “check-off” our dream of sailing to the Bahamas for a winter (see previous blog, “Finding an Empty, Quiet Anchorage in New England”). It was just the adventure we hoped it would be. We’re back home and have had some time to reflect on the trip - here are a few takeaways.


Spending three months in the Bahamas, mostly on Green Turtle Cay in The Abacos, during the winter was fabulous. The temps were in the 70s with very little humidity; the sun shone almost every day. However, it’s windy! Really windy.

“Northers” came through about once a week, with winds blowing around 30 knots, with higher gusts, for one or more days. And not only does the wind blow hard, but the direction completely “clocks” during the blows. 

A snug, protected anchorage might be great for a few hours, but you need to be in the mood to switch anchorages and reset your anchor in sand, in the middle of the night.  

We saw several boats straining on their anchors toward lee shores. And we saw several “anchor fails” even in our favorite protected sound. Nope, nope and nope. The 360 degree protected anchorages in The Abacos are very limited and those anchorages are generally full of moorings or marinas that can fill-up quickly when the next “blow” is forecasted. 

Once we understood the math regarding weather + available space, we booked a slip for the winter (at $1/ft, it’s a lot cheaper than New England!). 

When the wind was kind, we left the marina and explored, with the comfort of knowing we had a place to hide when the wind became unkind. It took so much angst out of the trip and made it so much more enjoyable.  We also had the huge benefits that come with a marina slip like having a cocktail at the pool while doing laundry. 

Sailing Skills

Spending 7 ½ months straight on our boat gave our sailing skills a big boost! We got a lot of practice at the things we already knew and learned a lot of new skills as well. 

A rough, 23 hour “sell the boat!” passage down the Jersey coast made us eager students of the interaction of swell period/direction and wave height. The weather for our future offshore passages would be much more carefully chosen. 

We got lots of practice with pylons and fixed docks which became more prevalent as we went south. (Read: Bring tons of dock lines and a fender board!).  

We used capabilities of our electronics that we rarely use like radar guard zones and AIS dangerous vessel warnings, especially on night passages. 

We got much better at playing the “Chess Match” of tides, currents, wind, bridge openings and hours of day light (not much in the Fall/Winter) to optimize both the departure and arrival of our passages.

Our favorite stuff

For 7.5 months, we were VERY interested in the weather every day, so having some way to access weather reports and apps was critical. While we were in the ICW or close to shore in the US, our cell phones were great. Offshore we used an Iridium Go! which reliably worked but was a bit cumbersome.  

In The Bahamas, getting decent internet involved a ferry ride and car rental from “Fritz” to get to a phone store on another island.  Some cruisers were using Star Link in The Bahamas and they loved it, but we had already invested in an Iridium, so a local Mi-Fi was a less expensive option. (See John Garner’s blog, “Sailing with Starlink Internet”).

Our folding bikes were a game changer for the entire trip. We saw so much more in every place we visited and it made getting provisions possible and/or so much easier. “Our” grocery store on Green Turtle Cay was 10 miles, round trip, from marina, so we got great exercise while we food shopped…which means we earned a few loaves of local homemade coconut bread. (John Maull has a wonderful blog on "Folding Bikes and Sailboats".)

Finally, we had a water maker installed prior to this trip, but found that we would have been OK without it since we had access to marinas more often than anticipated. However, given the variability of marina water, even in the US, we took a cue from fellow cruisers and started using a simple RV water filter on every fill-up. We did see quite a bit of grit, etc. in that filter. We also use Aqua Mega Clean Tabs in our tanks and a Seagull filter at our galley tap, so we felt good about our water for the entire trip.

Power of the People

Connecting with other cruisers during the trip was a game changer. One couple with the same boat as us (a Caliber 40), was shocked that we didn’t love our stay sail. For them it was their favorite sail – first up/last down.  We started trying our stay sail in different conditions and, WOW! The tiny bit more speed it gave us on long passages meant arriving a few hours earlier. And in gusty overpowering winds like ones we encountered coming out of the Cape Cod Canal, using the stay sail with a deeply reefed genoa took away much of the weather helm and heel while keeping our speed up. 

A cruiser we randomly met in the laundromat in Beaufort, NC told us about an online navigation aid (Bob 423) to avoid the many, many shallow spots from shoaling on the ICW. Most people run aground in the ICW, as we did TWICE on a previous trip while in the middle of the channel.  With “Bob” with us at the helm on this trip, we cruised through. “In Bob We Trust”.

A few Facebook Groups were helpful. One related to the ICW alerted us to a stuck bridge way before the official Coast Guard announcement came out. Another in The Bahamas kept us posted on local happenings, like what day the fresh produce farm would be open each week.  With all social media, you do sometimes have to filter through the comments! There is just some wrong stuff out there. 

And of course, when heading offshore, it’s prudent to have a “float plan” just in case something goes wrong. Having a BWSC friend keep track of us for our offshore passages provided a great level of comfort. John Garner graciously “volunteered” to be our contact who we’d notify at the start and finish of our overnight passages (he usually knew we arrived before we let him know!). We tried non-sailing friends/family in the past, but they seem to worry too much or not enough! Using someone who understands sailing worked out a lot better for us.

Overall, we had a wonderful trip and will never forget the places we visited or people we met and helped us on our way.  In one season, we barely scratched the surface of the many different ways to get to The Bahamas, which includes long offshore passages, Salty Dog Rallys, staying in the ICW and/or short passages down the coast. And The Bahamas is such a huge cruising area, we saw only one small piece of it in one season.  

We ran from cold weather and emptying anchorages going south in the fall and eased into warming temperatures and slowly filling anchorages heading north in the spring. We have a surreal feeling that we’re at the end of our sailing season and should be getting the boat ready for storage when our sailing season in New England has just begun.  We hope to see our fellow BWSC sailor out there soon!