Good Tradewinds, Good Tidings: Sailing in the Bahamas
The lure of the ocean is as ancient as life on Earth itself. A deep instinct inspires us to the great waters from where we first originated. Whether navigating gentle lapping waves or taming choppy conditions, there is an invigorating quality to floating about the great blue stretches of open ocean. Those hooked to traversing above the foam under the power of the winds regularly report an ultimate feeling of freedom, always with an eye toward the comfort and respite of new ports, new friends and new adventures. For many in the Bahamas, sailing isn’t a sport or a diversion, but a way of life like no other.
There are many ways to choose your sailing adventure in this special part of the Caribbean. Charters are plentiful both in the islands themselves or if you’re starting out from nearby Florida — which is just over 50 miles away! That short distance, however, is far more profound than it seems. Lifestyles completely change when crossing the shallow Bahama Banks. Prepare for things to happen at a more relaxed pace. It’s important to know where you’re going, what you want to do and be prepared because once you’re out there in the great emerald waters and remote islands, you’ll want to be sure you have everything you need on hand. Ready to explore the Bahamas from the deck of a sailboat? Here are a few things to know before you go, places you might want to check out and tips on what to pack so that you can make the most of your journey.
Planning for Paradise
We understand if your very first thoughts when considering a sailing excursion in the Bahamas are visions of tropical atolls topped with palm trees and surrounded with colorful coral reefs. Seeing that bit of heaven on Earth in your mind’s eye is exactly the goal you are seeking, and believe us — it’s there for real! But before embarking on this quest for paradise, you want to be sure you have all of your necessities. Just as with any trip you’re thinking of taking, the bare essentials are key: toiletries, medication, basic clothing, devices, etc. Sailing means limited storage space. It’s important to be economical in what you choose to pack — and what you need to save room for.
What is it driving you most to this sailing adventure?
Will you be snorkeling or scuba diving? Perhaps you just want a secluded beach to tan yourself upon? Is fishing your thing? If you’re going sailing on your own, think about bringing the needed equipment. And if you’re chartering a boat, be sure they have what you need aboard. For those needing to stay in touch with work or home via mobile devices, you can secure a BTC SIM card at your first port. If you are sailing your own boat into the Bahamas, any item from home you simply need to have with you, then be sure to bring. Simple favorites like popcorn or Spam come at a premium on the islands! For extended travel, any comfort food or treasured delicacy should be brought over from your point of origin. Water won’t be as expensive, but it’s good to have plenty on board and keep in mind that on some of the less inhabited islands, tap water is sometimes best avoided. All that said, if you want to stick to local flavors, there will plenty of options for authentic regional produce, alcohol and, naturally, seafood.
Charting the Passage
For the very bold sailors looking to discover the Bahamas from a port in Florida, it’s important to be aware before getting going. The Gulf Stream is strong and pushes northeast, so the smoothest sailing will not happen from Miami, but a bit lower on the map, somewhere in the Florida Keys, such as Key Largo. The Bahama Banks, as mentioned, are quite shallow — from 80 feet deep to as little as 15 feet— and shifting shoals can’t always be predicted. It’s best to have the latest charts on hand, solid GPS and contact with the local sailing community who update conditions in real-time. The pleasure of all this, of course, is that the crystal-clear waters will often reveal fanning grasses and wildlife riding your wake.
For those charting local captains to show them around, it’s important to figure out exactly where you want to go and what you want to do. There are literally thousands of islands and cays in the Bahamas ranging from the populous tourist centers to any number of spits of sand sporting nothing more than a coconut grove and a few hermit crabs. Obviously, you will be seeking separate services if, say, you are looking for some deep-sea fishing versus some shallow reef snorkeling. Decide what your trip will be like and then research which charter will be able to fulfill your needs.
Once you have landed upon a decision of exactly what you want your personal sailing vacation in the Bahamas to look like, the last step is figuring out where the things you want to do can be found. Consider, for example, that out of those thousands of islands, only about 50 or so have a village or town. And of those 50, experiences can range from full-blown urban settings to one-block fishing outposts. On the rest, all manner of adventures is possible from remote hiking opportunities to swimming with dolphins. In fact, there is such an abundance of discovery in this island chain, that starting with a basic idea of the more popular stops is key.
Bimini: From Ancient Roads to Hemingway
Coming in from Florida, the first stop in the Bahamas is the westernmost chain known as Bimini. Immortalized in the writings of Ernest Hemingway, fans of the novelist can still spot his legacy here, such as the legendary “Complete Angler” bar. And then there are the mysterious rock formations of unknown origin known as the Bimini Road, looking so much like ancient constructs, they spark tales of lost Atlantis. You can go see them for yourself by diving in the shallow waters or go out to a well-known spot where families of dolphins will swim with you. But the main thing Bimini is truly renowned for is sports fishing. True anglers will want to be sure to make this a stop in their sailing adventures. The island is also home to many resorts and fully equipped marinas.
The Berry Islands: Getting Away From It All
Due east of Bimini, we find the mini-atoll chain known as the Berry Islands. Here, one will find far less development than in Bimini and other parts of the area. Its 30 main islands and hundreds of smaller cays are home to about 700 people. That’s a lot of uninhabited beach space to call your own for a day. If you’re looking for that isolated stretch of sand to secure privacy and your happy place, this may just be the place to find it. Shallow coral reefs here, such as the Mamma Rhoda Rock, are spectacular spots for divers. This is one of the most protected areas in the region, so wildlife encounter opportunities will be plentiful. The Berry Islands are also called the “fishbowl” of the Bahamas, making it another great place for fishing, although the rocky waters are sometimes less favored by captains. Regardless, this may be the most beautiful stop on your journey.
The Abaco Islands: Time for a Little Culture
Just northeast of the Berry Islands lie the Abacos — and it’s a totally different world. Here, one will find a popular point of congregation for sailors and powerboaters alike. Village atmospheres take over where small family-run accommodations set the tone for the vibrant yet quaint nightlife and restaurant scene. Most folks use bicycles to get around the smaller, charming cays surrounding Marsh Harbour. It’s a completely relaxed place with great beaches and lots of small towns, each with their own charms, often reachable only by water taxi. This is a social place, a hub for sailors of all stripes who can be found hanging around the marinas and Tiki bars. Don’t be surprised if you make some great friends while you are here, the fun simply hangs in the air. To be sure, there are plenty of water activities here as well. Shipwrecks offer great diving opportunities and the local bonefishing scene is very rewarding indeed.