What should I take with us when we go to the Bahamas? This is a good question not only for the first-timers, but also for many who have already been. I certainly am no expert, but I have had the marvelous opportunity and luck to have been sailing in the Bahamas since 1965. With each passage I find something that could make it even better the next time.
Let’s talk about the NEEDS first. I really do believe these little things will give you a better time in the lovely Bahamas.
Lots of Suntan Lotion! Lest we forget, the most dangerous thing we have to consider in cruising the Bahamas is the sun! I speak from a lot of experience, and it is not pretty. So, please protect yourself at all times in the gorgeous sun that is constantly your companion while sailing in the Bahamas.
Also, a couple of really good hats because dollars to donuts you will lose one at some time or another. The best offer UPF 50+ protection with enough coverage to protect the back of your neck, ears and face. You should also have a good way to secure the hat to your head. A clip to the shirt or a good chin strap keeps the hat around to see another day.
Then, there are polarized sunglasses. Take about six inexpensive pairs. Do you know what I am saying? How many can say they have never lost their sunglasses? You are going to be using your eyes as the best aid to navigation you have. Reading the water from behind polarized sunglasses is the BEST way to navigate.
Protect yourself aboard your boat with a good bimini top and dodger. Your best options are those that can attach to one another when the sun is high so that middle part between bimini top and dodger has a covering over the entire cockpit.. Believe me, this will save you from that terrible creeping up burn that you forget could be happening as you merrily sail around.
Good ground tackle and an anchor that is known for its holding ability in the conch grass, a light layer of sand over coral, or scoured bottoms often found under your boat in the Bahamas. I hesitate to suggest what I think is the best anchor, but you know an anchor is like a wife; if she works for you, she is the best! So, be sure you have total confidence in your anchor and its ability to hold in the Bahamas bottom. A lot of heavy chain, even in the shallow water, also improves the holding of any anchor. A good anchor snubber will help keep all the pressure on a bow cleat and not the chain and windlass for your anchor rode when you are anchored in a bit of chop.
I think it is a need to have a roving, or secondary anchor, lighter weight than your primary anchor, that you can deploy easily from the deck of your boat or from the tender. YOU WILL GO AGROUND! No one can say they have never been aground in the Bahamas! With a lighter weight, well-holding anchor and roving anchor rode, you can quickly kedge off and be on your way again. Remind me over conch fritters and rum and coke to tell you all the stories about the many times we have run aground. You will get a giggle out of this, I guarantee.
Be sure to have a reliable depth sounder in your cockpit that the helmsperson can easily see and read. I am convinced the shallow draft boats go aground more than the deeper draft vessels because the captains think they do not need to keep a careful eye on their depth sounders. Those of us with long legged boats (we draw 6.5 feet) always keep our eyes on the depth sounder, especially when going into a shallow harbor, anchorage, or pass between islands.
Speaking about kedging off, another need is a portable handheld depth sounder. This is an indispensable little flashlight sized depth sounder to always have in your tender. If you go aground, or should I say, when you go aground, that little battery powered depth sounder will help you find the deepest water. It will second as a meter to show the depth of a coral head, where you see a conch, when a ledge drops off into deep water, and best of all charting your own little anchorages that have no chart soundings but look delectable for overnight anchoring. Anchor the mother ship and take the tender to these little gunkholes, and use the handheld depth sounder to make sure you can get in and out and have enough swing room in the hundreds of uncharted places in the Bahamas.
You really do need to have a good funnel/strainer for your fuel. Any time you put fuel in your tanks, raise your right hand and say “I promise to always filter my fuel before letting it into my tanks.” The article “First-Timers Guide to the Bahamas” (AAS, September 2014) mentions some good spares to have, and the most important spares you NEED to take are extra fuel filters for your Racor filters. Amen!
A few more must haves are:
• A really good boarding ladder for easy access to and from the wonderful clear water;
• Several jerry cans for water and fuel to replenish no matter where you are, and;
• A comfortable, dry, fast tender that is easy to stow on deck when crossing the Gulf Stream and easy to tow once you are in the Bahamas.
Next month we’ll take a look at the “Wants” list that will make your Bahamas adventure memorable.
Pam Wall is well known for outfitting world cruisers, consulting on prospective routes for sailing, providing sailing instruction, and giving seminars that encourages the cruising lifestyle to all who attend. Follow her on Facebook at Pam Wall Cruising and Sailing Consulting, visit her website www.pamwall.com or contact her directily at firstname.lastname@example.org.