I LOVED the Exumas! Here are 7 things you may want to know before cruising there!
1. The most important thing to know! Beer is $65+ a case in the Exumas! Bring plenty with you! And if you want to “invest” in Kalik (pronounced click), be prepared! 🙂
2. There is no such thing as too much time! Weather will dictate your lives, very frustrating until you finally give up and go with it rather than buck it – but that takes time. Our biggest regret is not allocating more time to cruise in the Exumas. We deliberately picked March/April/May to explore the area because conventional weather wisdom says that cold fronts stall out farther north later in the spring. But after waiting three weeks, we finally managed to get a long enough weather window to cross the gulf stream and then the Bahama Bank. We arrived at the Highbourne Cay, one of the upper Exumas, just in time for the weather to change and blow 20-30+ for the next five days. In the meantime, we’re watching our 3 month Exumas cruise turn into mere weeks.
3. For us, Bimini was a convenient place to stop after crossing the gulf stream (i.e. get a bit of sleep after departing at 2:30 AM the prior morning!) and clear in. We crossed from Rodriguez Key … here’s a post with our waypoints all the way to the Exumas as a starting point to plan your adventure. The Blue Water Marina in Bimini was a bit run down, but a nice location. Literally from the time we were in the slip, didn’t even have the sail cover zipped up yet – to the time we were cleared in and legal, was all of a half hour, maybe less. Easy easy easy. The entrance channel was a bit shallow and because the sand bars are ever shifting, reading the water is a must. We came in at high tide and left on a mid-rising tide, with a 5 1/2 foot draft.
4. West Bay on New Providence allowed us to anchor for the night en route from the NW Channel Light to the upper Exumas in comfort. For whatever reason, it’s rarely used, but we enjoyed it … well, until the garbage dump started burning garbage the morning we were ready to leave. There’s a state park with a dinghy dock and you’re even allowed to take in garbage. For us it was a nice alternative to Nassau.
5. Very few anchorages are protected from the weather, except prevailing easterlies, in the Upper Exumas. I never understood why most boats seem to gravitate to Georgetown and stay there the entire season, but I think now that it must be weather. No matter the time of year it seems, if it’s not hurricane season, there will be cold fronts with winds first from the South, then Southwest, then West, Northwest and after the front is through from the Northeast. Obviously, you’ll be much more comfortable in an anchorage with all around protection. But “all-around” protection often means current scoured cuts between islands such as Norman’s Island. But the swell and surge still come in. So where to go? Study your cruising guides and pick all around protected anchorages carefully. It’s wise to arrive a few days in advance to get the best spots … or to reconnoiter and have enough time to change your mind if the surroundings aren’t what you anticipated.
6. If you enjoy snorkeling, make sure you check the current and tide ahead of time. The snorkeling was more challenging than what we experienced in Belize and the Bay Islands. The best Exumas snorkeling sites are current dependent. You could easily be swept out to sea by current too strong to swim against, so be cautious. We usually anchor the dinghy (or tie to a dinghy mooring if provided), one person gets in to test the current. If it’s not strong, we both get in and stay somewhat together – enough so that if one of us has a problem, the other is within earshot.
7. BE PREPARED! There are no ATM’s between Nassau and Georgetown if you’re headed south. I was amazed at the number of conversations overhead on the VHF regarding innovative ways cruisers tried to get extra cash. Bring twice as much cash than what you anticipate needing and don’t get caught short!
Any Bahamas veteran cruisers out there that can offer more Need To Know advice? Please leave a comment and let us know! THX! Jan