When and How to Sail to the Bahamas

When and How to Sail to the Bahamas | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

September 10, 2020

Sailing

With the western islands of the Bahamas located 50 miles away from Florida's East Coast, sailing to the Bahamas is very possible even in a very modest sailboat. All you need to know is when and how to sail to the Bahamas.

With over 700 separate islands spread across an ocean area as big as Florida and arguably the most desired climate on the planet, it's easy to see why the Bahamas is a paradise and one of the top sailing destinations in the world. But as they always say, reaching paradise is never easy. It may be an overnight sail away from South Florida but deciding the best month to sail and how to sail to the Bahamas can be overwhelming to most sailors. Of course, there are several factors such as where you're sailing from, the weather conditions, and the hurricane season that may determine your Bahamas sailing experience.

So when is the best time to sail to the Bahamas? Even though you can sail to the Bahamas year-round, the best time to sail to the Bahamas is between December and April. The weather is warm, there are no hurricanes, and the waters are relatively calm to allow you to travel around 15 to 25 knots. Sailing to the Bahamas revolves around crossing the open Ocean and boating in the island's remote areas.

As such, it's of great importance that you plan well and have the right things to augment your Bahamas sailing adventure.

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When to Sail to the Bahamas

One of the most important things to consider when planning sailing to the Bahamas is the weather conditions. You certainly do not want to be caught out by a deadly hurricane when sailing to the Bahamas. So you should avoid sailing during the hurricane months (June to November).

The Bahamas has experienced various hurricanes and there is much less protection and help in the Bahamas than you might find back at home. As such, it's advisable that you stay informed on daily tropical reports and get back to the United States as quickly as possible if there is any developing hurricane.

That being said, the best time to sail to the Bahamas is generally between December and April. The temperatures are slightly cooler, drier and the Bahamas is less humid. If anything, it's at the height of winter in the United States, so this can be a perfect opportunity to escape the biting winter, soak up some sun, and work on your tan.

It's also important that the most effective time to sail to the Bahamas may largely depend on your interests, schedules, and, of course, budget. You should, however, keep in mind that sailing is more pleasant when the average wind speeds are between 5 and 20 knots, which is the scenario throughout the year, except when there's a hurricane.

As far as hurricanes are concerned, they've hit the Bahamas in the past but they tend to head for the United States than the Bahamas, so there's no cause for worry. Statistically speaking, the chance of a hurricane hitting the Bahamas during the official hurricane season (June 1st and November 30th) is 1 in 5 chances.

But if you have to sail to the Bahamas during the hurricane season, it's highly advisable to take extra precautions. For example, you can factor in travel insurance both on you and your sailboat.

Having the Right Boat

Here are a few things to consider when choosing an ideal boat for sailing to the Bahamas.

Type of Boat - The type of boat that you use to sail to the Bahamas must be built well enough to handle the open ocean, especially when the weather conditions are adverse. It should be large and heavy enough to safely carry you and your crew, as well as all the equipment and supplies you might need for the trip. In terms of the size of the boat, it will generally depend on what's comfortable for you, how carefully and well you pick your sailing weather conditions, and your willingness to wait until when the weather conditions are favorable.

Cabin Accommodation - Generally, a boat that's built for offshore fishing can be ideal for sailing to the Bahamas. Many sailors prefer boats with cabin accommodations as they're normally ideal for your safety if you plan to stop at various marinas. Such boats are common in the Bahamas and are a great way to easily blend in with the crowd or other sailors at the marinas.

Speed of the Boat - Another important thing to consider when choosing an ideal boat for sailing to the Bahamas is speed. A boat that's able to notch up to 25 knots can take a couple of hours to sail from your departure point is South Florida to the western islands of the Bahamas. Such a boat can take just about a day to sail from Florida to Nassau or Marsh Harbor (the Boating Capital of The Bahamas).

On the contrary, a sailboat that can notch up to six knots may take most of the day to sail from your point of departure in South Florida to a safe harbor in one of the islands in the western Bahamas. In addition to the slow speed, the powerful northerly Gulf Stream currents can seriously affect a slow-speed displacement hull.

All in all, it's advisable that you consider using a faster boat as it can help you in maximizing shorter weather windows.

How to Sail to the Bahamas

Here's how to sail to the Bahamas from the United States. 

Starting Point

The best departure point from the mainland United States is generally Florida. You can start the voyage from typically anywhere in South Florida and crossing will be a lot easier if you go more into the south. That's why many sailors sailing to the Bahamas from the United States choose Miami as their favorite departure point.

If you're planning to check-in at the Cat Cay or Bimini in the Bahamas, you can consider moving further south and using Key Largo as your departure point. But if you want to check-in at Abacos, Fort Lauderdale or Miami will be your best departure point since they'll allow you to ride the Gulf Stream a bit.

While it's possible to sail straight across the Gulf Stream, many seasoned sailors would advise you to take this route. Instead, the best thing to do is to wait for a weather window when there are no northerly winds. In other words, it's best to cross when the wind is less than 10 knots from the east and less than 15 knots from the west.

The Best Routes

Here are a few tried-and-tested routes for sailing to the Bahamas from the United States. This should be based on a sailboat that can notch up between 15 and 25 knots in moderately calm waters.

A Short Sailing Trip to Bimini (50 nautical miles, one trip)

You will cover about 50 miles when sailing to Bimini, Lucaya, Cat Cay, or any other island in the western Bahamas. These destinations will give you a glimpse of what to expect deep into the Bahamas but will at least give you a taste of what it is like to cross the Gulf Stream. You can anchor your sailboat behind Gun Cay to the north of Cat Cay. 

Sailing to the Abacos (190 nautical miles, one trip)

Located next to the Grand Bahama Island, the Abacos is home to Hopetown, Marsh Harbor, and Man of War. This area is perhaps one of the best in the Bahamas as it offers numerous treats of civilization than most areas in the Bahamas including museums, shopping, and restaurants.

The best way to sail to the Abacos is to depart from Palm Beach and sail 60 miles across the Gulf Stream before stopping at the Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End. The next leg of your voyage should be 100 miles taking you to the Green Turtle Cay. You can then sail 20 miles to the epicenter of Abacos, which is home to Marsh Harbor, the Boating Capital of The Bahamas. You can sail 15 miles farther south to Little Harbor where you'll find numerous marinas and anchorages.

Northern Exumas (220 nautical miles, one trip)

This voyage will take you to one of the very gorgeous out-island destinations in the Bahamas. You can set sail from Fort Lauderdale or Miami and sail 50 miles to your first stop in Bimini. You can then head to Chub Cay, which is 80 miles farther south. You can then sail to Nassau (the Capital City of the Bahamas), which is nearly 40 miles across the Tongue of the Ocean.

You can then head to the Northern Exumas but you'll have to sail cautiously as there are several reefs at the southern end of Nassau Harbor. Northern Exumas is home to several marinas including the Highbourne Cay Marina, Sea Park at Warderick Wells, and the Exumas Land.

So no matter which route you take when sailing to the Bahamas, the beauty of the Gulf Stream is, without a doubt, one of the highlights of this voyage. You may experience calm crossing but keep in mind that the area between Florida and Bimini or any other island in the western Bahamas can be very extreme, especially if the wind is blowing from the north. This is why you should be on top of the weather information before setting sail.

In addition to avoiding the hurricane, here are a few recommendations to make you voyage to the Bahamas much better.

  • Have on board enough food and fresh drinking water to last you for a week even if you have plans to stop at the marinas.
  • Bring a wetsuit.
  • Your boat should have an outboard if you're planning to anchor out.
  • Have good anchoring equipment.

All in all, have a good plan in place, have an ideal boat, choose the best time to sail, pick your most preferable route, and set sail to the Bahamas; it's one of the greatest experiences that any sailor can ever have.

Carry with you an appropriate snorkeling gear if you want to experience the coral reefs up close. While you can see them from a flybridge, the experience isn't the same as when snorkeling.

When and How to Sail to the Bahamas

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When and How to Sail to the Bahamas

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