| RECOMMENDED SAILING AREAS|
BEST SAILING DESTINATIONS IN THE BAHAMAS
Conception Island, Elizabeth Harbor - Georgetown, Little Harbor - Abacos, Little San Salvador and Cat Island.
The Bahama Islands are the most popular winter time cruising area for North American sailors. Starting a mere 50 miles from the coast of Florida, they stretch close to 700 miles, almost to Haiti. They encompass nearly 700 coral islands, only about 30 inhabited. The waters are warm, transparent, with an unbelievable range of colors from the palest translucent green to a deep indigo.
Hundreds of square miles are shallow waters, but off the east coasts of the island chains depths quickly reach hundreds and even thousands of feet. Tides do not exceed three feet, but yachts drawing more than 5 feet may only be able to traverse some of the shallowest channels close to high tide. The prevailing winds are the easterly Trades, interrupted only by occasional northers reaching down from the United States in the winter months and tropical depressions in the summer months. Some of the entrances from deep water to the shallower harbors, particularly in the Abacos and Exumas, may be difficult or even dangerous on an ebbing tide when the easterly wind exceeds 15 knots.
I think the best overall guide book is the "Yachtsman's Guide To The Bahamas". However, for the Abacos you can't beat the detailed information provided by "Cruising Guide to the Abacos and the Northern Bahamas" - originally published in 1976. Now the completely updated and expanded 3rd Edition, published in 2000, is available. The Chart Kit published by B.B.A. is a great value and provides aerial photos to aid navigation.
I avoid the crowded and noisy tourist centers of Nassau on New Providence Island, and West End and Freeport on Grand Bahama Island; although if approaching from Miami or Fort Lauderdale they are difficult to avoid being the ports of entry. Beyond them, there are so many beautiful anchorages that it's difficult to list only a few, but here are my favorites.
This is without doubt my most favorite island in all the Bahamas and Caribbean. Uninhabited and protected as a Bahamas National Land and Sea Park, it is sanctuary to an enormous variety of birds, fish, turtles and coral. The best anchorage is in the northern bay, just south of the coral reefs of West Cay. The bottom is sand and shoals gradually towards the beautiful, sparkling white, mile long beach. Anchor close in. The anchorage is safe and comfortable under normal conditions with the wind out of N through E to S. The snorkeling in the reefs that extend another 4 miles to the north is superb. A walk along the NE coast up to the top of the cliffs will be rewarded with an outstanding view of the gorgeous colors of the ocean waters as well as of the shallows of the interior lagoon. The interior lagoon is accessible only by dinghy through an entrance 2 miles south of the anchorage.
N.O.S. Chart 11013, D.M.A. Chart26284, 23° 51'N 75° 07.5'E
One reason why you will rarely see more than half-a-dozen yachts at Conception Island is that it is a long 40NM slog to windward from the closest popular harbor at Georgetown, Great Exuma. The usual plan is to make an overnight stop at the well protected anchorage in Calabash Bay (23° 39'N 75° 20'E) under the lee of Cape Santa Maria at the northern tip of Long Island. Head towards Point and then, when close in, turn east towards the anchorage off the white beach.
Keep a close watch on weather forecasts. If a norther should be threatening, move out of the North Bay anchorage. Sail around the island and enter the eastern lagoon close by Wedge Point. Keep a sharp lookout for coral heads and anchor in about 10 feet on a sandy bottom off the beach 1 mile north of Wedge Point. This anchorage also provides access to more good snorkeling on the reefs that extend almost 3 miles to the east.
Coming from the north, the last possible stop is at Hawk's Nest Creek at the SE corner of Cat Island. This creek offers a secure anchorage in any kind of weather (even hurricanes), but being protected is also buggy. A small marina provides fuel and water. From there it is 30NM on a course of 132° mag to Conception Island, an easy day's sail under prevailing NE to E trades, but a windward slog if the wind has shifted to the SE as it generally does at the end of March. However, after leaving the Hawk's Nest Creek entrance, steer 143° for 4 miles to give the dangerous reefs a safe clearance.
This small, deserted island is used as a stop-over by sailors voyaging between Eleuthera and Cat Island. It is a beautiful deserted island, which even offers palm trees in addition to the usual vegetation of causarinas, palmettos and machineel. A short walk from the gorgeous crescent shaped beach you will find the ruins of an old plantation. Hens, now gone wild, still roam the bushes and it is possible to find an egg or two. The anchorage offers good protection from all directions except the west and north-west. It is said that the snorkeling is good on the north side of the island, but personally I have never tried it. The interior lagoon is only accessible to dinghies. Unfortunately, late 1997, the entire island was purchased by the Holland-America Line which plans to build a resort. This will destroy the peaceful character of this unique island. Too bad that a wealthy benefactor could not be found to donate the island to the National Park Trust.
N.O.S. chart 11013, D.M.A. chart 26280. 24°34.7'N 75° 77.5'E Fortunately winds rarely blow W and NW for more than a couple of days during a norther, because there is no easy place to run to. The closest shelter in a westerly blow is the marina at the Cape Eleuthera Resort 30NM to the NW. Davis Harbor can also provide shelter for smaller yachts at 21NM in the same direction.
Cat Island, 48 miles long, has several nice anchorages along the western coast protected from all but westerlies. There is a pleasant restaurant, Armbruster Resort, in Fernandez Bay - best anchorage at north end of the bay in shelter of Fernandez Cay. Going south to New Bight go at least 3 miles off shore to avoid a shallow spit. In New Bight the half hour hike up to the Hermitage atop the highest point in the Bahamas (204ft.) is definitely worth the effort.
Hawksnest Creek, around the south-west corner of Cat Island, is a well protected hurricane hole with a marina at which fuel and limited supplies may be obtained. Being well protected it is also buggy! It is a good stopping point before continuing south to Conception Island or to San Salvador. Whether entering or exitting come in straight to the entrance from about 3 miles off shore to avoid the nasty reefs along the south coast of Cat Island.
Elizabeth Harbor is a channel 9 miles long running NW to SE between the barrier islands and the south end of Great Exuma Island. It is mostly shallow, no more than 20 feet deep anywhere - mostly 6 to 12 feet, with a sandy bottom. The entrances at each end require careful navigation between reefs and shoals, study the detail charts and guide-book instructions carefully before entering.
The Great Exuma Island shore is unattractive. Georgetown is the largest town on the island and provides a few small hotels, a small marina with fuel and water and a well stocked supermarket with it's own dinghy dock in a sheltered lagoon. Air service enables an exchange of crews. The several delightful anchorages, sheltered from the Tradewinds and ocean swells by the barrier islands, particularly the largest of them --Stocking Island, are the only justification for inclusion in my list of Favorite Destinations. Stocking Island offers beautiful sandy beaches, both along the Harbor as well as on the ocean side. There is little attractive snorkeling. During the winter months Elizabeth Harbor becomes crowded because, for many, it is the end of a Bahamian cruise. After a few weeks relaxation, most turn around to go back north. Even some of those who started out with the intention of sailing to the Virgin Islands, never get any further! There are many activities provided by the hotels, or organized by the yachties themselves. The season ends with a week-long regatta complete with races, treasure hunts, barbecues and dances. In April local Bahamian sailors congregate for the Family Islands Regatta of native built boats
The most protected anchorages, in fact hurricane holes, are three circular basins on Stocking Island. Needless to say late arrivals will not find space in them. However ample anchor space exists along the mile long beach at the south end of Stocking Island, which is calm except during a norther. Then it is desirable to find refuge in three protected harbors along Crab Cay, the largest of them Crab Cay Anchorage. Many anchor in the area adjacent to Georgetown, but I dislike the continual chop caused by the Tradewind blowing across the mile wide shallow waters.
Considering the large number of yachts that assemble in Elizabeth Harbor it is strange that no one has built a repair facility. The resident yachtmen help each other out with spare parts and tools. If greater repairs are needed, it is necessary to go 25 miles to Stella Maris Marina on Long Island, the only facility south of Nassau which offers haulout service and competent technical help.
D.M.A. Charts 26301 and 26302. 23° 34.2'N 75° 48.3'W for north entrance; 23° 30.2'N 75° 39.7'W for south entrance.
Little Harbor is a small, completely protected, circular bay at the south end of Abaco Sound - the long stretch of shallow waters that stretches along Great Abaco Island, and which is protected from ocean swells by the barrier islands. These waters are a favorite cruising ground, particularly for less experienced sailors. Marsh Harbor is the center of activities for this region with several yacht charter companies.
The entrance to Little Harbor is shallow, less than 5 feet at low tide, 7 feet at high tide. The bottom is sand and good holding. The bay is surrounded by sandy beaches and there are additional beaches on the ocean side. Unfortunately, it is very popular and becomes crowded in the winter months. Also the land around the harbor has become built up with holiday homes. A more peaceful anchorage is to be found along the beaches of Lynyard Cay, 1 1/2 miles further north. An attraction of Little Harbor is the museum and foundry of the noted sculptor Randolph Johnston and his talented family. The best snorkeling in the area is in the waters of the National Park off Pelican and Sandy Cays 4 miles further north, but there is only a daytime anchorage in settled weather.
D.M.A. Charts 26320 and 26321. From Marsh Harbor and Hopetown the approach along the Sound is described in the guide books, it is shallow but mostly the bottom is sand so running aground is only an annoyance, not a danger. From the ocean the safest approach is through North Bar Channel east of Sandy Cay. 26° 23.3'N 76° 57.6'W.
The entrance across Little Harbor Bar should only be attempted in calm weather on a rising tide. After crossing the bar it is necessary to make a 90° turn to N. I had a hair-raising experience crossing the bar several years ago. After a fast run from Royal Island evening was approaching, the wind was dying but a large swell was still running and the tide had started to ebb. Through binoculars I had watched another yacht make the crossing. From a distance it seemed to have had no problem. The light was not favorable but, having crossed several times before, I was familiar with the entrance. Just as I was on the bar, too late to turn back, the water under me started rising up and the crest appeared to be ready to break. I was surfing on the crest of the 12 foot high wave, my boat was starting to tilt into a broach. Fortunately, I had the engine idling and with a quick burst of power was able to regain control and make the turn, dropping back on the back of the wave as it started to break and rush onto the reef along the island. Half an hour later, safely at anchor in the harbor, we broke out the rum and celebrated the happy ending to an exciting but unwelcome experience!
For general Bahamas Sailing Information, see
http://www.yachtsmansguide.com, which has been updated regularly since 1950, and contains numerous sketch charts.
For specific sailing information for the Abacos, go to Darrel Wyatt's Web Site of "Cruising Guide to the Abacos and the Northern Bahamas" - www.bahamasvacationguide.com/abacoguide.html. It loads fast and contains a wealth of information.
Continue on to more favorite sailing destinations in Virgin Islands, Grenadines, Guadeloupe and Virgin Islands.
Return to Table of Contents
Copyright © 1998 B. C. Biega. All rights reserved.