As I write this, my two little ones are running around me in lighting fast circles like monkeys at the base of a banana tree. There is no rhyme or reason to their incessant eruptions of energetic impulses.
Living with two toddlers is kind of like living in a house with wild ponies. Ceaseless stomping, romping, frolicking, eating and fighting dominate the home front and overwhelm my nervous system.
Since my house isn’t made of endless rolling meadows and grassy green fields for them to romp in, mommy and daddy have to succumb to being human jungle gyms.
Now, take that scenario, and put it in a tiny enclosed space surrounded by water, rocking and rolling at the whim of the ocean’s swell.
Why, why in god’s good name would anybody do that to themselves?
Well, if you haven’t already, see how “the Bahamas” fits inside your google search bar.
It fits nice, doesn’t it?
Those bewitching shades of blue and green glimmering atop seamless white sands require our immediate on site inspection.
I could wait for the kids to grow a little bit older to make our sailing journey exponentially easier…
But Here’s a Little Anecdote of Why Waiting is Overrated:
This past summer we spent in Florida’s coastal waters gave us reason to throw waiting out the window.
Our love of the aquatic landscape was born on the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. Well, this year, all of those coral reefs died. Marine heat waves, disease, and ocean acidification has claimed the life of Sombrero Reef, Looe Key Nursery, and most, if not all of the reefs along the Florida Keys.
Aging parents and grandparents everywhere are living proof that waiting to live any of your dreams, is simply a bad move. But now, our planet is aging too, and waiting to experience the natural landscape that calls you, means it might not be there when you get around to it. Needless to say, we are wasting no time in experiencing the reefs that are still thriving.
The clock is ticking, and while it does, I will be madly packing and preparing for our family of four to embark on what we hope will be the journey of a lifetime.
In the meantime:
What does preparing for a watery odyssey like this entail?
Here are what I consider to be the underlying guts to be considered when planning for Bahamian Cruising:
A Good Anchor. Anchorages. Wifi. Navigational Aids. Food. Insurance. Towing. Weather.
The Bahamas in winter, especially during an El Nino year, is known for packing some pretty heavy blows. So our first foundational item on the list is:
A Good Anchor:
Allow me to paint you a picture of some anchor dragging mayhem that befell us a few weeks back.
It was middle of the night, and we awoke to a dreaded sight: our boat was just a mere few feet away from another sailboat at anchor.
Re setting our anchor in the dark, with the winds picking up, and boats all around us, is a really terrible way to interrupt a beautiful REM cycle.
The wind and the current were opposing in an exact match. So try as we might to set the anchor, the wind blew against Fort Pierce Inlet’s 4 knot current in direct opposition, making it almost impossible. All the while we were blind to the crab pots and shoal markers lurking near our hull in the darkness waiting for us to bump alongside.
That was a long night. One I would really like to avoid at all possible cost.
Let’s define: “all possible cost.”
How about $750?
That is the cost of a brand new:
After conversations with a handful of sailors around Florida, one common theme arose from all the personal anecdotes we heard: if you want a good nights sleep, get a Mantus.
The Mantus is specially designed with your sleep in mind. At least, that’s what they tell me.
We got that item checked off our list pretty quick after our boat bumping anchor dragging night of madness a few weeks ago.
Being opportunistically frugal like any good sailor, we found a used Mantus on Facebook Marketplace. I mean, why give all that money to west marine when you can just give it to a fellow sailor who has it on hand?
And no exaggeration: just a few days after we purchased our anchor, the winds started to pick up, and the previous owner of the Mantus tried to buy it back. TWICE. You really can’t put a price on peace of mind at anchor. Or, maybe you can, and it’s about $700.
Tip: Always get an oversized anchor.
Another thing that I consider a foundational element of preparedness:
I was never great in science class. In fact, I had to take chemistry twice. And meteorology is no different than any dreaded high school science class.
I have read two weather books, and I keep a close eye on Mike’s Weather Page, but I still lack the fundamental knowledge of weather predictions. But with Chris Parker as my weather forecaster, I don’t really need to see into the meteorological future. He can do it for me. His precise and tailored sailing forecasts are a godsend. You can subscribe to his emails which include detailed information about the Bahamas and Florida and/or the Atlantic East Coast. But you can also watch his webcasts in the morning for a more comprehensive explanation of the forecast. If you look at the names in the webcast room, you might see one or two boats sitting in your harbor or mooring field.
Tip: If you get into using Chris Parker, read his Primer on how to decipher the forecasts, as they are pretty complicated at first look.
But what good is a weather forecast if you don’t have the internet to deliver it? That brings us to the next item of preparation:
I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. The options are limited but well stacked:
My Island Wifi seems to offer the best internet, with the all the perks and affordability without contracts and unlimited everything, but, I can’t get ahold of anyone! I emailed their customer service to ask what the wait time is on getting a wifi device, with no response. The last I heard from multiple other Bahamian Cruisers was that they had a shortage of devices, and a long wait time. I personally have had no luck with them.
Another option is Google Fi. Their unlimited plus plan offers unlimited talk, text, data, and cloud storage and hi speed tethering (hot spot) all available internationally.
I am personally going to use Google Fi on my phone. They are easy, no contracts, and they have good customer service on their live chat box to answer any questions. I don’t know what towers they use, but it looks like they are different than the BTC towers.
My husband will be using BTC (Bahamas Telecommunications Company). We are hoping that if Google fi isn’t giving us good service in the Exumas, mmaybe the other will.
BTC offers short term pay as you go plans. If your phone is unlocked, you can go into a store and get a SIM card when you arrive to switch your service, or you can get a SIM card for BTC a head of time at MR SIM CARD.
Verizon: probably the worst option at $10/day.
T-mobile: great if you have T-mobile, if not, switching can be hairy as they are tricky little bastards in customer service. Or maybe I just got unlucky.
ALIV is a newer Bahamas Telephone service that also offers short term pay as you go plans. They are comparable to BTC, but with less stores on the islands which can be troublesome if you want to pick up your SIM card in person.
Tip: make sure you cell phone is unlocked before you head out, in case you do get a SIM card from BTC or ALIV when you arrive.
My husband and I run a few businesses remotely, and having internet is a requirement to keep things running smoothly. But having it for weather is also an absolute must in my opinion. The Bahamas is known for limited anchorages that offer protection the wind in all directions, and there are even less that offer protection from a westerly wind. If the islands had more protected anchorages from all directions, I wouldn’t bother so much, but most of the landmass in the Exumas offers protection only from the east. The winter blows are known to pack gale force winds. I do not want to be stuck with my pants down during a blow like that with a lee shore behind me. So my next topic of preparation:
A combination of two things is what I use to look for anchorages in the Bahamas:
Explorer Chart Books and the Waterway Guide to The Bahamas 2023. Both go hand in hand. The Waterway Guide references specific pages in the Explorer Chartbooks to pinpoint anchorages, caution areas, local attractions and more.
With the charts, guide books, and a chart plotter on your boat, you shouldn’t need navigation apps on your phone, but I like to use them as a back up in case something happens to our chart plotter. And the apps have great up to date anchorage information including reviews.
As we approach an intended anchorage, I like to pull it up on Aqua Maps and check the reviews on that anchorage. Aqua Maps displays both Waterway Guide and Active Captain information on anchorages. That is a lot of individual reviews on each anchorage. And anyone that is leaving a review on these apps is usually leaving detailed infomation about the holding, and how each anchorage holds up in all kinds of weather conditions. It’s invaluable information that there just isn’t room for in the chart books or the Water Way Guide books.
Navionics in another great app to have on your phone for a back up chart plotter in case yours glitches out on you.
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are hard to come by in some of the more remote the islands. But did you know that paper towels and mayo are also hard to come by? Sure, you might find some mayo to slather on that sandwich, but it’s going to cost you a pretty penny, so I’ve heard.
What we decided to do is pre stock on non-perishable foods that will be hard to find or exorbitantly priced.
I can pack canned corn all day long, but I can’t make a head of lettuce longer than a week or so. So what about vegetables?
For the adults, we are going to stock up on Athletic Greens for the days that we don’t have any fresh veggies. And for the kids, we have Smarty Pants Kids Multivitamins to help fill any deficit. Both of these things are a healthy addition to any diet, so there’s no harm in bringing them along. Beware: the Athletic Greens will burn a hole in pocket faster than a forest fire. You can buy a knock off brand, but consider an organic brand, since the coniferous greens have a tendency to come laden with pesticides.
Insurance and Towing:
If you are a boater you are probably pretty familiar with Boat US towing insurance. If I had a nickel for every time someone shared this quote with me: “There are two kinds of boaters: those that have run aground, and those that lie about it.” Haaaa Haaaaa.
The first time we ran aground was epic to say the least. We were about 20 yards from the shore in front of the Washington Sailing Marina in DC. In our overexcitement to go somewhere new, we completely missed the channel markers and ran aground right in front of the marina’s illustrious restaurant. Over a painful 6 hour period our sail boat went from upright to laid over on its side right in front of the dining room’s picture window. It was SO embarrassing.
A few days prior, I purchased a membership with Sea Tow.
But unbeknownst to me, Sea Tow doesn’t cover the D.C. area, Boat US does. So we either had to fork out the cash to get a local tow, costing over 2,000$, OR wait a painful 8 hours for the tide to rise all the way back up, and try to pull it off ourselves.
Needless to say, we waited.
Now we carry Boat US, and I’m proud to say I’ve gotten my money’s worth many times. With the Boat US Towing Unlimited Plan, you are covered for towing in the Bahamas. But keep in mind, you will have to fork out the cash initially for the tow. Keep your receipt to submit to Boat US later for reimbursement.
That doesn’t mean that you need to find the towing company yourself, however. If you run aground in the Bahamas, you should still call Boat US right away, and they will find a local tow for you. You just need to pay for the tow and submit your receipt for reimbursement later.
If you go to the Bahamas, are you still covered? It might be worth calling your insurance company to see if you. We are lucky to have an easy, cheap, and full coverage policy with State Farm. But not everyone is so lucky. Some insurance companies won’t even allow you to take your boat to the Bahamas during certain months of the year.
Regardless, if you have a boat insurance policy, you may also be covered for a tow. So if for some reason you don’t have Boat US, or they don’t want to reimburse you, your insurance company might, up to a certain amount. Keep your receipt!
There is so so much more that has gone into preparing for this trip. For instance: homeschooling on the boat. But that’s a post for another time.
For more reads on preparing to sail the Bahamas, my favorite sailing blogger, Carolyn Shearcock, covers all sides of this topic on the The Boat Galley. She offers easy to read articles on all the important things that should be considered before cruising the islands.