Bahamas and Cold Fronts
07 April 2021
Russ Whitford | cold but sunny
We hardly expect sympathy from our northern friends when we complain about a cold front in the Bahamas. But anyone sailing in this area should know about these weather gifts from North America and be advised of their passing.
During the winter, cold fronts come off the US, east coast every five to seven days. These cold fronts often travel down to the Bahamas. As spring approaches, these cold fronts weaken and don't reach as far south.
The problem with cold fronts is not the temperature, it's the strong and clocking winds that can be tough on a cruiser. Trade winds are normally from the east or northeast in the winter. As a cold front passes, there is an abrupt and strong 180 degree shift in the wind. Wind clocks to the south, southwest, west, northwest and then north. Wind speeds are often in the 30 knot range, sometimes higher! After the cold front, north to northeast winds remain strong for about three days.
Anchorages are mostly protected from east winds and open to the west. Here in the Abacos, there is a five mile fetch across the Sea of Abaco to the popular anchorages. West wind can be very dangerous and produce uncomfortable seas.
Last week we had a cold front. April is the time when cold fronts diminish in strength. The west component of the cold front was worrisome in our Fisher's Bay, Great Guana Cay anchorage. But the west wind was predicted to be just strong enough to counteract the east trade winds. We stayed in this anchorage and crossed our fingers for the 12 hours it took for the wind to clock to the north and start really blowing. West winds never reached uncomfortable velocities. But when the wind went north, it really blew, 30+ for two days, then gradually diminishing.
When we were here in 2015, we anchored in Marsh Harbor for a January cold front. Marsh Harbor is pretty well protected in all wind directions. It blew over 50 knots. Two dinghies became airborne and flipped over in the strong gusts. One charter boat was forced to stay at the dock for five of their seven day charter!
In February we rode out a cold front in Royal Harbor, also protected from all directions. It blew so hard we couldn't leave the boat for three days. Ten miles away, a Jack Russell Terrorist, like Sophie, was blown off the deck and drowned!
The moral to the story is don't cruise the northern Bahamas in the winter! If you are leaving the US after hurricane season, in November, sail right to the southern Bahamas, Exhumas, etc. Then work your way to the northern Bahamas.
If you are chartering a boat in the Abacos, northern Bahamas, you are in for a treat. We love it here. But don't come before April! Even better, wait until mid-April to sail here.
And yes, it is cold here. At least compared to French Polynesia. We shiver under two blankets in the 60 degree nights!