07 April 2010 | Currently in St Augustine
Capt. Don Q.
My reflections on the Bahamas after several months of cruising there.
Its important for me to start out by describing what I am looking for in a good cruising ground. What my expectations are.
To me a good cruising ground has to have, first and foremost, good, very well protected, anchorages. Secondly, I would like services to be relatively close to those anchorages (fuel, food, water laundry, etc.) not so far away that days are spent just getting to them (unless I am in a "remote" mood which does happen). I would also like good internet cafes spread throughout the area. Places to sit with a cup of coffee or tea and a pastry and work on your own computer in quiet and protected from the elements. I would also like to see a few good restaurants, not necessarily expensive, but with good local and typical food and a place to sit, again free from the elements when I go to a town or city. A bar is nice and music is a nice addition. I would like it to be casual and comfortable. I would also like to see a nice beach with relatively small waves for wading and swimming or just walking along that is steep enough for bringing a dinghy ashore without getting your feet soaked every time. And lastly, I would like to have access, within a reasonable distance (certainly less than a hour from the anchorage), to a place to snorkel and catch fish for meals.
That would be my list. I even listed the things I would like to see in the order of importance.
If I was traveling in a truly remote place, a lot of the charm is its remoteness. I certainly would not expect most of these things and in fact they would be considered a negative to the experience. Sort of like the tour boats in and around Cape Horn. They make a special place feel routine. Imagine climbing Everest and finding a Starbucks at the top!
Now lets look at the Bahamas.
Contrary to the reports, there are very few anchorages that are truly protected. Over the several thousand square miles of islands there are only a handful of anchorages that are even good to wait out a frontal passage. The problem with any anchorage for waiting out frontal passages is that the front causes the wind to rise significantly (at least 30 knots and up to 50 or 60 knots) as well as blowing from every available direction as it traditionally clocks around from East through South to West then North and finally back to East. Your chosen anchorage needs to offer protection from every direction equally. Very few do this (even if it offers this protection, you will still be on anchor watch during the passage as your anchor releasing during a 40 knot blow will usually put you aground within minutes. You need to be ready to drop another anchor or start your engine to say off the shore).
There are many anchorages in the Bahamas that offer protection from 3 of the 4 possible directions. Quite a few actually. There just aren't that many that offer protection in all directions (what is actually needed in this "front" prone country). Of the few that do offer this protection, many are now becoming "private". Multi-millionaires are buying whole islands and chaining off the entrances to these anchorages. If they allow anchoring in their private bay, they often do not allow access to the beaches while there. Pretty sad.
Starting from the North in the Abacos, lets look at the anchorages I found to be worth note.
As you come onto the "bank" near West End (the first well-protected place you are not allowed to anchor) the logical stopping place is Mangrove Cay. This is an oval shaped Island with only a poor roadstead anchorage. If the wind is right, you can stop for the night after the Gulf stream crossing. Leaving there, you head for Great Sale Cay. Your choices here are either a three direction anchorage (W-N-E open to the South) or a roadstead anchorage protected from the East and somewhat from the South but wide open to the North , West, and Northwest.
Leaving Great Sale Cay,you will probably move to the next real anchorage (passing roadstead and blocked anchorages) until you get to Green Turtle Cay. Green Turtle has two very protected anchorages that are just the right size for several boats. One is completely filled with moorings and no anchoring is allowed. The other is only mostly filled with moorings and TADA you can anchor here if you are willing to squeeze yourself in at the edges (two anchors are probably a must). I stayed there a few days and really loved it.
Leaving Green Turtle Cay, you head past Whale Cay and on to Marsh Harbor. A large anchorage wide open to the West and Southwest. It is very popular and several cruising boats will always be there. When fronts passed through that seemed fairly nasty, we went to a nearby marina to be safe and comfortable.
Near Marsh Harbor is Hope Town, a very quaint community, great place to visit, but again, no anchoring allowed in their perfect harbor.
If you travel a few miles North from Marsh Harbor, you can visit Man-O-War Cay again with two great harbors, but both are full of moorings. One or two boats could possibly anchor off to the side with two anchors and almost no swinging room. Perfect harbors though.
After leaving Marsh Harbor, the logical route is South to Little Harbor. Another great harbor, but again with a lot of moorings and very little room left to anchor. It is possible to anchor there, but when the wind switches, you will probably swing into the empty moorings. We also stayed there a few days and had a great time at Pete's Pub. Don't miss it.
The typical route from here is South to Royal Island near Eluthera. Here is a perfect safe harbor with no moorings, yet. It has been sold to a developer and already access to shore is prohibited. The harbor will be closed soon, I am sure.
You could go to nearby Spanish Wells, a nice little town only a few miles away, but again it is full of moorings, has lots of current, and there is little or no room to anchor.
Leaving this area, you head South along the West side of Eluthera. This is one of the bright hopes for the trip. The backside of Elutherea has a couple of real anchorages that you can actually anchor in. The first is Hatchet Bay. A tiny entrance protects a bay that allows anchoring throughout. There are a few moorings, but still, lots of room for anchoring. The next on South is Rock Sound. It is actually protected in all directions-sort of-and is a good place to spend some time. It is large though (3.7 miles tall and 1.5 miles wide) so waves build up in any real blow. You may have to move to the protected shore as the wind clocks around. Unfortunately, that is usually at three in the morning. You are protected from every direction though.
Leaving Rock Sound and heading South again you can round Powell Point and enter No Name Harbor just off Chubb Rock. It is narrow (you may have to tie off to trees), and no services exist, but you can anchor there and will be protected in every direction.
I have now listed every anchorage I found offering all round protection in the Abacos region of the Bahamas and Eluthera. Pretty sparse huh?
Next I will discuss the anchorages I found in the Exumas.
By the way. I realize that this may sound like I didn't enjoy my time in the Bahamas. Nothing could be further from the truth. I loved it there. The water is warm and clear, the people are great, the good anchorages are great, the weather is nice when fronts aren't rolling through, there is always a breeze. It truly is one of the World's best cruising grounds. Many of the cruisers I met lamented the fact that developers were closing anchorages and beaches. We feel that it is a mistake for the country to allow it. I realize that they rely on the tourism dollars and influx of building, but most cruisers feel that the anchorages and beaches up to high water should be available to all.
It is still a great place though.