A Nearby Slice of Heaven
Despite increasingly catering to the mega-rich, the Bahamas are still an accessible-and spectacular-wonderland for middle-income family cruisers. From "Passage Notes" in our September 2007 issue.
Kate and Allen Barry, who spent time in the Bahamas in November and December 2006, would add one more book to that short list: Skipper Bob's Bahamas Bound. The late "Skipper" Bob Reib was the author of a series of popular cruising books, and his Bahamas title covers such issues as how to provision and plan your crossing.
The Barrys, marine-industry professionals who, when not cruising, live in Fort Lauderdale aboard their 1977 Down East 38, Mendocino Queen, have just made their first trip to the Bahamas, so they made sure to see as much as they could. In one month, Kate and Allen visited the Bimini Islands, Chub Cay, Nassau, and the Exumas. Since the December winds were high, they hugged the leeward side of the Exuma chain and island-hopped on the Great Bahama Bank.
New regulations prohibit foreign boaters from harvesting conch and place limitations on spearfishing. Kate and Allen were lucky enough to visit just before these laws took effect. "I guess they passed those laws because people were taking too many," Kate says. "There are always going to be people who fill up their freezers."
The environmentally conscious couple dove for conch, but took only what they could eat for dinner. "The locals even showed us how to open them," Kate says.
Meg and Chris Chesley cruised the Exumas in January, but they weren't much bothered by the new fishing laws. They were too busy riding the wind on their 2006 MaineCat 41, Walk on Water. In three and a half weeks, including their crossing, Chris says, they only put 13 hours on the engines. "We aren't fishermen or divers," he says. "If you're not, you'd better be a sailor."
The Chesleys let the wind determine their destinations. They left from Lake Worth, Florida, and their choice to cruise the Exumas over the Abacos, Chris says, "was based on 15 degrees of wind angle" on the day of the crossing. Taking advantage of their catamaran's speed, they crossed to Great Harbour Cay, in the Berry Islands, via West End, on Grand Bahama Island. After that, it was on to Eleuthera and the Exumas, mostly seeking less-used anchorages along the way. "Don't get stuck following the crowd," Chris advises. "It's too easy for most to just go and do what everyone else does. Our best memory is making a three-day sail to Eleuthera for $80 worth of groceries."
Those groceries were the most challenging part of the couple's voyage. The Chesleys brought plenty of dry stores, but they struggled to adjust from salads to canned green beans when they couldn't find fresh produce at the small Bahamian grocery stores-a problem exacerbated by their desire to avoid such population centers as Nassau and George-Town. "We felt a bit guilty raiding the local stores when the supply boat came," Meg admits. "It doesn't take many cruisers to buy out a week's worth of deliveries."
For the Turner family on Enterprise, the Bahamas are a daydream that's just over the horizon. They're hooked on the lure of crystal-clear water and pristine beaches. And while Miranda's social needs could turn them back to Marathon, the Markses have some advice that may help there, too.
The Markses have seen a decline in the middle-class cruising community. They've witnessed high-rises ruin the natural beauty of Paradise Island and condos going up even in the far reaches of the Family Islands. But at the end of the voyage, the glimmering beaches and looking-glass waters were never the Bahamas' greatest jewels anyway. What kept Bill and Robin sailing back-and what might rescue Miranda's social life-is the Bahamas' most remarkable resource: its people.
Years of condescension from a certain breed of tourist have made some Bahamians a bit wary, Robin says, but offer an honest greeting and a smile "and it's like you handed them a gold bar. We have tons of friends there now."
After countless visits, Bill is equally enthusiastic about the islands just 50 miles off Florida's coast. "For a first-time cruiser," he says, "they're still a great cruising ground. There's nothing else like it in these latitudes."
Melanie Neale and Dan Roblee have spent much of their lives as liveaboard cruisers. They currently live on land in Delray Beach, Florida. Melanie is a career adviser at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and Dan is an education editor for LRP Publications, in Palm Beach Gardens.