shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Crossing to the Bahamas the First Time

September 22, 2014

I was recently reminded by a reader of one of my posts that what I had written was simply my opinion. My response to this obvious observation should have been equally obvious. Of course it is. But my opinions are not formed based on theory, or armchair sailing experience, or from other opinions I have read on the internet and incorporated into my own. My opinions are drawn from actual experiences, and sometimes people like to hear the opinions of some of us who have been living this lifestyle for double digit years. So, once again, here are more of my opinions.

Georgetown, Exumas

A week or so ago, I read a piece in a boating magazine giving advice to newbie sailors wanting to cross over to the Bahamas. Some of the advice given in this piece convinced me that the writer didn't have much cruising experience and when I got to her bio at the end my suspicions were confirmed. After reading some of her advice I realized that if this is what is being published in boating magazines, maybe there should be someone saying, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What were you thinking?" That has apparently become my job lately.

Highbourne Cay

One of her pieces of advice was to have a buddy boat with you so that they can tow you or "buy you time" while you change the fuel filters if your motor quits running. Regular readers of this site can predict my "It IS a sailboat" response, but let's look at this even more closely. First of all, the only way to safely buddy boat is with a boat with close to the same water line length. Otherwise, one of you is going to be in the stream longer than necessary waiting for the other one and the other one is going to be pushing (your motor?) your boat harder than you safely should in order to keep up. But let's assume you can safely travel at the same speed. Anyone with much experience can tell you how futile having a sailboat tow another sailboat is when crossing the Gulf Stream. Even in the best of conditions, it is hard on both vessels, extraordinarily uncomfortable, and completely unnecessary. If the conditions are so bad that your filters are getting clogged, they are probably too bad to have a sailboat tow you. As for "buying you time," I'm not even sure what that could mean exactly. So we'll just leave that alone.

Exploring the Bahamas in the dinghy

Nowhere in the entire article did she stress the importance of knowing how to sail, or of going on the correct weather window rather than when your schedule dictates that you cross. Frankly, the easiest way to have a great crossing (whether it's across the Gulf Stream or across the Mona Passage) is to pick a good weather window that allows you to sail across. There is nothing more uncomfortable than a sailboat without sail up. If you cannot sail your boat 90 miles across to the Bahamas, maybe, (dare I say it?) you shouldn't be taking a boat across to the Bahamas. Period. Just because you have the money to buy a boat (and a handy little device that tells you which way to point it) does NOT make you qualified to safely travel by sailboat.

She also had some communication advice for those going to the Bahamas for the first time. According to the writer, a SAT phone is worth the money so that you can be guaranteed to keep in contact with people. Who are you trying to keep in touch with? VHF works great to contact marinas and fuel docks. Wifi is available for those family emails (though maybe not to the extent that many people have become accustomed). And if you can't be out of touch for a few days, well then (dare I say it?) maybe you shouldn't be contemplating spending any time in the Bahamas.

Feeding the pigs

Her final piece of advice that left me shaking my head, was that a week's worth of provisions should be fine. After all, you can buy what you need there. You're going to buy a SAT phone but not take enough food to last you while you're there? I suppose some people's priorities are a bit different from ours.

It has been said that you cannot complain unless you can offer alternatives. So here are my alternative pieces of advice for those who want to go to the Bahamas for the first time.

1. Learn how to sail. Equip your boat, yourself and your crew with the tools you will need to safely and correctly do so. The easiest way to ensure that you have done this is to sail. Do you need more light air experience? Go out sailing when "there is no wind." Afraid of heeling too far? Lash everything down and go out overcanvased for the afternoon. Sail the shit out of the boat, pushing her and yourself farther than you think you can while you're still in your home waters. There, see, you didn't sink. Now you know what you're both capable of.

2. Listen to weather reports long before you plan to leave. Pretend you are waiting for a window to cross. Is it a good time now? Why or why not? What exactly are you looking for? What constitutes "a good window?" Even if you can't leave for 6 months, start getting weather now. You'll notice patterns, learn the lingo, and build your confidence in calling a good window when you finally need to.

3. Provision for your entire trip, so that all you will have to buy is produce. Food prices in the Bahamas are outrageous. A loaf of bread is $6, and if you have to have your favorite cereal, be prepared to pay $14 a box for it.

Now, you can sail, you can read weather, and you have food. Go, have fun, and for goodness sake, turn off your SAT phone so you can go snorkeling! But then again, that's just my opinion.

MONDAY we'll share how we made a quick, simple, and cheap companionway screen.

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