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May 18, 2013


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Navigation:This ever so important aspect of cruising takes on even greater importance and thus requires greater care when traveling in the Bahamas. As noted in our Bahamas Cruising Guide text (and repeated on this page for emphasis), we have reported here for several years that the Bahamas Marina Operators Association, in cooperation with the Bahamian government, has undertaken the job of marking primary channels and hazards. They started in the popular cruising waters of the Little Bahama Bank and the Abacos and have continued with new markers for Spanish Wells and Hatchet Bay on Eleuthera. The markers along the routes across the Great Bahama Bank are even older and generally well maintained (click HERE for list and coordinates), but the truth is that in the Bahamas, channel markers are NEVER have the reliability we are used to here in the States.

Most Bahamian skippers are so adept at eyeball navigation they don't really need markers. This reduces the impetus to add more or to replace those that inevitably get destroyed or damaged. So markers in the Bahamas — even those you've used previously — are always iffy.

While we visitors will probably never be as good at eyeballing depths as are those who have spent their entire lifetimes perfecting the process, the skill can be learned.  Here's a tip: The color of the water (and bottom) is the key. The water is like a blue filter and the thinner the water, the less blue you'll see. For added help, remember the rhymes: Blue, blue, sail on through. Green, green it's gettin' lean. Brown, brown, you can run agroun'.

Finally, and though other guides will also tell you this, it is important enough to bear repeating here (and often): when cruising in the Bahamas, Never rely solely on GPS coordinates, regardless of their source. Modern GPS is usually accurate to within a meter but with so many Bahamian charts still based on old (occasionally, ancient) surveys, lat/long info can be wrong. Plus, many shallow sandbars are so constantly shifting they defy being accurately charted at any time. So eyeball navigation is not only common in the Bahamas, it is a must! You can use GPS to get close to a destination or waypoint, but in the final analysis, what you actually see should determine which way you go. For this reason — and others — we advise against cruising in the Bahamas at night. If you can't see the bottom clearly, you certainly can't navigate well.

Ocean Rage or Abaco Rage: Frank and Nora Papy and Cliff Bootle (Treasure Cay Dockmaster) have come to be thought of as our "Ocean Rage“ pros here at the FCD. We’ve included their ideas on Whale Cay passage, notorious for swells…

“…the sand bar on the inside is continuously shifting due to bigger seas in the winter…   better known to Bahamians as rages… the route you took last year may not be the same the next year.” That per Cliff.

Frank and Nora Papy say they “…always plan ahead for Whale Cay passage. You’ve got to go through there in good weather and if there’ve been any strong storms in the North Atlantic they will cause…large swells breaking across the inlets. This may occur in other inlets to the Sea of Abaco as well."

They also recommend a call to Abaco Yacht Service on Channel 16 for latest conditions and/or checking on Abaco Cruisers Net.

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