15 February 2016
So you want to go sailing in the Bahamas? Go for it. But don't go in the winter!
We have chartered boats in the Bahamas 3 times in the past 20 years. We sailed in February and March and had no worries about weather. We just picked up the boat, twice in Fort Lauderdale, and sailed to Bimini the next day. Boy were we lucky with the weather. People have been waiting for "weather windows" to make this passage for weeks. We just sailed where we had planned and paid passing interest to the weather.
We are told this winter in the Bahamas, the weather has been especially harsh. Some people cruising in the Bahamas have just returned to Florida and given up. One boat is heading back because they ran out of beer. We hung out on their boat one evening and they weren't pulling our legs.
We are in Georgetown, Exuma. Some call it "chicken harbor" or "adult daycare." This is such a popular harbor, they have a morning cruiser's net on ch 68. During cruiser's net, they ask for new arrivals. After the net there is orientation for new arrivals! It was most helpful for us to know the lay of the land. Yoga is at 9:00am at Chat and Chill beach. Volleyball is at 2:00. The trash boat comes around at 10:00 and charges $2/bag. This is a real community with about 200 boats in the anchorage. Ch 68 is the hailing channel. It is busy most of the day. Oh, it is now sunset and the Conch horns are blowing. It is gray and windy as hell but still the Conch horns. It's just how it goes in Georgetown.
Back to weather or more importantly wind. There is a typical winter weather pattern in Florida and the Bahamas. Can you say "Cold Front?" A cold front may not be even approaching cold from a Wisconsin point of view. But it does bring wind. It brings lots of wind and from directions that are not typically seen in the protected anchorages.
Chris Parker is the weather guru in these parts. He has an SSB broadcast early each morning except Sunday. He gives weather forecasts for the various areas in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Then he invites subscribers ($200/year, yes we did subscribe) to ask questions. Subscribers call in and state where they are and where they want to go. Chris looks in his polished crystal ball and tells them when the next reasonable weather window exists. He gives detailed information about wind and wave conditions. He even talks about which days are better for sailing and which may be just motoring opportunities. Everyone listens to Chris Parker.
But we are tired of hearing CP say, "Friday is going to be a mess! Wind is going to start out SE, building SW, going NW and building. Then it will go N to NE and settle down to 20 knots." Yes, settle down to 20 knots. The typical trade winds are NE to SE at about 15 knots. Most anchorages are well protected from any winds with some east in them. Most are not protected with anything with a west in it. So, when a cold front comes in, everyone heads to a "hole" where protection is good from all directions. You have a few days notice and better make plans.
This cold front pattern lasts from 2 to 4 days. We were in Royal Harbor, Eleuthera and didn't leave Uproar for about 50 hours straight. Thank you Kindle! Poor Sophie had to potty on the grating behind the wheel. She is pretty used to that by now. Even then, we dinghied to shore when the wind was about 30 knots! We are getting used to it.
Last night we went to Escape Velocity, Harry and Finola Corbett's boat. Harry and Finola used to live in Milwaukee. We knew them well from MYC. They now live in Oriental, NC where we visited on our way down the ICW. They cruise the Bahamas on their beautiful S&S designed yacht. We went for cocktails on EV at 4:00, cocktail hour for cruisers. Squalls to 30 knots, driving rain and gracious invitations from Finola and Harry compelled us to stay for dinner. Thank you cold front and Harry and Finola! We had a delicious Chicken Curry with all of the fixins!
We listened to the Coconut Telegraph (VHF radio) a lot today. You have to in G town or you will miss out on something. Many boats canceled their plans to get together. They were afraid to leave their boat or afraid to get soaked in their dinghy. We took Sophie ashore twice and went to Bright Ayes to get an insurance form printed. They answered our plea on the VHF for someone who could print a word document from a thumb drive. They said, "It's going to be rough dinghying over here." It would have been but a large catamaran was headed in their direction when we shoved off from Uproar. We hung in their lee, they were a perfect wind and wave break. The skipper spotted us and laughed, he knew why we were there.
We went ashore after the gracious printing task from Bright Ayes. Lisa and I went to Volleyball Beach but instead played Kubbe. From shore one would think it was a perfect, tropical day. But 100 yards out, it was raging. So what, we got a little damp in the dinghy but what's a little water. We live on a boat (like T Pain, check out Youtube).
This is a lot of rambling to say if you are going to charter a boat in the Bahamas, don't do it in the winter!!! Wait until March or April. The cold fronts weaken. Instead of crazy winds clocking all directions, the west components just suppress the easterly trade winds. Having said that, DO charter in the Bahamas. You won't find a more beautiful place to sail and more wonderful people. The Abacos are the easiest and we love them. We are exploring the Exumas and find them to be a bit more wild and remote. They are simply gorgeous! We loved Eleuthera as well. Just look online for charter companies and get your butt down here!