First-Timer’s Guide to the Bahamas

Sunset at Guarna Cay, Abacos. Photo by Barry Miller
Sunset at Guarna Cay, Abacos. Photo by Barry Miller

They say it’s better in the Bahamas. But it’s even better when you know some of the lessons learned by those who have already been there.

Before you go
Only 50 miles from Florida, these islands are the closest and most exotic of getaways for cruisers. Having the right weather window for your crossing is key. It’s not unusual to wait in one of the Florida launching points for weeks to get the right combination of wind and waves to cross. Depending on which part of the Bahamas you want to go to, launch points include: Ft. Pierce, Stuart, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

The crossing itself has been likened to being in a washing machine because of the tossing around you get. Bring seasickness remedies even if you’ve never been affected before. My favorite is ginger root tablets, but there are several other options: a prescription ear patch which is preventative, over-the-counter drugs such as Dramamine or Bonine, which can make you sleepy, or an acupressure wrist band.

Waiting for the weather window involves extensive research using marine experts like Chris Parker (wwmxc.com) who provides Bahamas and Caribbean marine weather and routing advice. Also, check such online resources as passageweather.com, sailflow.com, windfinder.com and nws.noaa.gov. All provide a mix of information that changes each day. In the end, however, the decision about when to leave is yours.

To reduce anxiety, many people prefer crossing with a buddy boat, and rounding up one is as easy as using the VHF.

Entering the Bahamas
It’s a foreign country despite the fact that you see American flags everywhere and hear only English. This means you need to learn its rules because, while it may be better in Bahamas, it is also different.

First, you must check in with Customs and Immigration at a port of entry. An agent will want to see your passport and any necessary papers for pets (see sidebar). The 90-day cruising fee is $300 for boats over 35 feet and includes a fishing permit. If you leave the Bahamas for a visit home, be sure to take a copy of the cruising permit so you can reenter the islands.

You can more easily return by boat to the states by signing up for Local Boater’s Option with U.S. Customs. This allows you to check in by phone rather than visit an office.

The Bahamas are loved and sometimes hated for their shallow depths. The good news is, you can anchor almost anywhere. The bad news is, it’s easy to go aground, so make sure your electronic or paper charts are current.

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