We are far, so insanely far away from calling ourselves sailing experts. Let’s be real, we’re definitely still more like sailing rookies. But regardless, we somehow made it safely all the way through the Bahamas as first-time cruisers and definitely learned a thing or two (sometimes the hard way!) while island hopping our way south.
Looking back, there are a few tips I wish we would’ve known before setting sail. There are certainly plenty of lessons to learn as first-time cruisers, but these five tips immediately came to mind when reminiscing about our amazing time sailing the Bahamas. And who knows, maybe these five Bahamas cruising tips will help save someone else a few headaches along the way.
1. DO pick up a mooring ball at the Exuma Land + Sea Park. DON’T anchor outside. At least not for your entire stay.
As much as we usually prefer carving out our own little niche and dropping hook in a quiet, secluded anchorage, I highly recommend forgoing anchoring outside the park in exchange for paying the nominal mooring fee inside the park and picking up a ball. At least for part of the time. And preferably, in the main Warderick Wells mooring field. That is, if a mooring ball is available.
^^s/v LAHO is moored on the right, tucked behind that green boat.^^
As first-timers to the park, we weren’t sure what to expect, so we initially dropped anchor just outside. FYI, there is no anchoring allowed inside the park. After spending a super rolly night at anchor and having to make the very arduous dinghy hike into the park to see much of anything, we opted to switch it up the next day and picked up a mooring ball for $15 per night. Our enjoyment level increased exponentially after moving “inside” as we were able to more easily partake in all of the park’s offerings (Boo Boo Hill and other park trails, insanely gorgeous snorkeling right by the boat, and tons of amazing photo opps). We were also sheltered from a pretty nasty westerly that moved through the area around the same time.
^^our homemade sign to place atop the famous Boo Boo Hill at the Land + Sea Park.^^
To get a ball you just need to contact the Exuma Park Office on VHF channel 9 as you are headed towards the island. The park ranger usually won’t know what’s available or assign you a ball until another cruiser drops their ball and leaves that morning. So it doesn’t necessarily help to call way in advance…just wait until you’re cruising close by.
2. DO go ahead and purchase your Batelco data + SIM cards when you first arrive in Bimini. DON’T wait until you need them.
No matter what you read on the Explorer Charts, all those marked “BTC Offices” showing throughout the Bahamas out islands are rarely, if ever, open. Do yourself a huge favor and get your internet situation squared away while in Bimini, where Batelco is open and operating on the regular.
^^our typical “office” in the Bahamas.^^
Make sure to also stock up on more data cards than you think you will use because you cannot purchase them online or over the phone. I know, so silly. BTC connectivity is, surprisingly, so very easy to come by throughout the Bahamas. There are towers everywhere. However, if you are not already setup with a BTC SIM card, the necessary data cards from BTC, and a way to activate and use that data, then it becomes extremely difficult to find any open BTC offices the further out you get to make that happen. The best offices we found were in Bimini, Great Harbour Cay, and Georgetown. And thankfully, our cruising buds over at >>Sailing Journey<< saved our butts when we were running low on data in the far islands and gave us one of their data card pin numbers before we ran dry. You guys were total lifesavers. Thank you!
3. DO sail on to Long Island. DON’T get stuck in George Town.
This one wasn’t hard for us to learn since we knew all along we’d be sailing way past George Town as we made our way towards the Caribbean. From what we hear though, plenty of folks spend cruising season living it up in the Bahamas, hopping through the Exumas and eventually making their way down to George Town where they put down roots for several weeks before turning around and heading back to the states long before Hurricane Season kicks up. George Town essentially becomes the final destination for so many Bahamas cruisers. Even though George Town is lovely, I would be remiss not to mention that Long Island — pretty much the next stop after Georgetown and not more than a day sail away — is my all time favorite island in all of the Bahamas.
^^loving life on the pristine white sand beach in front of Cape Santa Maria Resort shortly after we got engaged!^^
Head over to Calabash Bay at Cape Santa Maria to see, hands down, one of the prettiest beaches around. The Cape Santa Maria Resort is also a great spot to check out whether you are looking for an actual overnight stay (like we were for my birthday turned engagement) or simply dinghying into the resort for great food and drinks. And if you get real adventurous, sail around to the other side of Long Island too. We ended up in Clarencetown on the east side of Long Island after spending some time in Rum and Conception Cays.
4. DO take your time in the smaller, less talked about islands of the Exumas. DON’T bypass some of these real gems.
After spending probably a little too much time at the front end of the Exumas and the big-name spots like Blackpoint, I really wish we would’ve slowed down and spent even more time in the smaller, lesser-known islands of the Exumas. Looking back, they were hands-down some of my favorite.
^^snorkel diving the awesome stainless steel mermaid-piano statue that David Copperfield commissioned just east of Musha Cay.^^
We anchored for one night only directly in front of the private island of Musha Cay, but man was that single day awesome. The islands are so pure and untouched around there. We spent our time dinghy exploring about two miles in both directions with lots of snorkeling, swimming, and conch hunting in between.
5. DO spend some quality time in the Berry Islands, particularly the east side of Great Harbour Cay. DON’T get stuck for over a week (like we did) on the west side of the island.
That is, if you get a good weather window to hit up the east side of Great Harbour Cay in the Berries. For us, ignorance was bliss as we unknowingly happened upon one of the best weather windows you could ask for to take advantage of the east side of the island.
We literally had no idea what we were doing when we sailed around the island and dropped anchor in front of one of the prettiest beaches in the world. We spent about a week there taking it all in and having, honestly, some of the most amazing experiences of our lives.
Happy Sailing! :)))
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