Across the Gulf Stream from Florida and running along the northern side of Cuba lie the Bahamas, a nation that consists of more than 2,000 islands covering close to 14,000 square kilometres. The islands are generally low, a contrast to the volcanically formed Caribbean islands to the southeast, and the waters are shallower, making “eyeball” navigation an important skill.
The clear, shallow waters and crowd-free anchorages of the Bahamas, only a short hop by plane from Florida, are a favorite charter destination. According to Wikipedia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, (which declared its independence from England in 1973, but remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, which is made up of former member states of the British Empire), consists of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets.
132 companies offering charters in the Bahamas. Many of the islands are within a couple hundred miles of the Florida coast, so it’s an easy destination to get to by air. And while many regard the Gulf Stream as an insurmountable barrier between their Florida-based boat and the gin-clear waters of the Bahamas, in as few as 45 miles you can be enjoying conch fritters while safely tucked away in a cozy marina.
Weather-wise, the Bahamas, especially the northern portion, can be more challenging and changeable than the Caribbean. Blue Northers (cold fronts sweeping down from Canada and across the Gulf Stream) can send temperatures plummeting and winds howling, especially in the Abacos, the island chain that runs along the Florida coast from Palm Beach down to Hispaniola.
But temperatures are relative; when it’s 10 degrees in New York City, even the coldest temperature ever reported in the Abacos (46 degrees) sounds pretty good. And down here fronts pass through so quickly that even colder temperatures will soon move back up toward average, which in February is in the seventies.
If you choose to head to the Bahamas in summertime, hurricanes are a concern. Since 1999, four major hurricanes (Dennis, Floyd, Frances, and Jeanne), and many more tropical storms have rolled over the Bahamas, causing millions of dollars in damage. Monitoring the excellent hurricane forecasts from the National Hurricane Service will help you avoid danger.
The shallow, reef-laden waters of the Bahamas can be tricky, rewarding the careful navigator and punishing the foolhardy. Oft-used harbor entrances are well marked and buoyed, but most everywhere else requires careful planning, use of the several excellent private charts and cruising guides that are available, and a strict, daylight-only navigation rule. The water visibility is outstanding most of the time, which allows for sight navigation especially when the sun is high in the sky.
The shallower draft your vessel has, the better off you’ll be, which is one of the reasons that catamarans are a popular choice for charter companies and charterers. Any vessel that draws over 5 feet will prove a challenge, and its navigator will have to pay close attention to the 3-foot tidal range.
Bareboat charter fleets are available in the northern group of islands called the Abacos, but crewed yacht charters may extend throughout the archipelago, dependent only on the length of your charter vacation. Besides offering excellent bonefishing, the Bahamas offer deep-sea fishing charters as well.
Nassau is renowned for plush resorts with golf courses, giant pools, spas and Vegas-type entertainment. But that’s just Nassau, located on the island of New Providence and one of 700 islands that make up the island nation known as the Bahamas. Only a handful of the islands are inhabited and most of its renowned reefs are pristine and untouched. Mostly flat and sandy, the outer islands are laid back and unhurried, where you can meet friendly local people, retired captains and sailors, old fishermen, and the artist seeking inspiration in incredible sunsets.