These are some things nobody told us but we learned along the way (either the hard way by experience or from other cruisers):
Head Y-Valve – Florida is manic about boarding boats and checking Y valves. A wire-tie won’t do. You must also have a lock! We made a lock by using mono-wire with a loop at each end crimped with butt connectors. We already had a hole drilled in the Y-valve handle so we put the short wire through the hole and added a lock. We were boarded by the potty police in Florida in 2010. After seeing our lock the officer was most impressed and left us alone. Once in the Bahamas, we found out that it’s important to work the Y-valve frequently to remove any calcium buildup that causes the valve to break.
Mooring – We’ve picked up moorings before in Annapolis so we weren’t worried when we approached the moorings in Exuma Park—big mistake! We quickly learned that it’s more important to head into the current than the wind. Also, when tying up to a mooring, you’re supposed to use 2 lines looped through the mooring pennant instead of one to help reduce chafing of the pennant.
Flying Termites – After a storm in Long Island I saw lots of little bugs on deck with wet wings. I thought ‘poor little creatures’. Afterwards, I was told that these are flying termites and after they lose their wings, they try and find a place to crawl into your boat to feast. Make sure you get rid of them quickly!
Weather – The best source for weather information in the Bahamas is Chris Parker (http://www.mwxc.com/). If you have a single side band (SSB) radio, you can subscribe to this weather service and receive personalized help. We didn’t have an SSB the first 2 years we cruised but were able to listen to Chris using an SSB receiver. Chris gives details about the weather forecast that you can’t easily infer from interpreting all of the weather models available. He is a sailor and knows the Bahamas well so when you ask him about a particular route or anchoring area, he can help you determine if the weather or seas are conducive to your plans. If you have Internet access, some good weather pages are:
Buoy Weather – http://www.buoyweather.com/index2.jspGRIB – http://www.grib.us/NOAA – Tides and Currents – http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/index.shtml
Reserving a Mooring at Exuma Park – Call at least one day ahead to reserve a mooring at Warderick Wells. We joined the Bahamian National Trust to receive preference for mooring locations. When you become a member, you get one night for free on a mooring. The North field is more protected from weather than Emerald Rock in most conditions. Emerald Rock is a beautiful location for calm weather and can be extremely uncomfortable with strong SE to W wind. We dodged fronts for 2 weeks in 2010 in the South mooring field and loved it there. It’s protected from all sides and you can easily land on the beach in strong winds. The only downside is that you won’t have a wifi or phone signal although we did climb to the top of one of the island and got a phone signal. We also walked to the beach on the other side (an easy walk) and got a wifi signal on the beach. You should specify which location you prefer when you contact the park. If you don’t get your first choice, ask to be put on the waiting list for your preferred location.
Many people volunteer at the park in exchange for a free day on a mooring. You must show up at the park office before 9am in the morning to see if volunteers are needed.
In 2010 you could no longer get wifi access using paypal. The only way to request a daily access number ($10) was to visit the park office (about a 4hr trek from the South mooring field or a long dinghy ride around the island!)
The moorings at Cambridge Cay and Shroud Cay are ‘first come, first served’. A drop box is located on the beach at Shroud Cay to deposit your mooring fee. There may be a mooring host at Cambridge Cay to collect the fees.
Radio Etiquette – We learned a lot about using the VHF radio on this trip. It’s nothing like using the radio in the Chesapeake. Bridge tenders are very temperamental. Most don’t like you to call them until they can see you. Some were very friendly and helpful. It’s always a good idea to identify yourself even if someone else already called the bridge and an opening will occur. Always let the bridge tender know when you’ve cleared the bridge (we heard stories about bridges closing on boats while they were still underneath!) Also, watch out for unmanned railroad bridges. We heard a horror story about a railroad bridge closing on an unsuspecting sailboat and they lost their mast.
When hailing another boat on the radio, use the format ‘Boat Name’ ‘Boat Name’ ‘Your Boat Name’. Repeating names 3 times is unnecessary. Make sure you switch to a working channel for your conversation. Some people use the terms ‘one up’ to mean switch one channel up to channel 17 or ‘up and up’ to mean go to channel 17, 18, etc. until you find an open channel. That’s a little too cutesy for me!
If you’re traveling in a group with several boats, it’s a good idea to pick your own ‘working channel’. Pick a channel that’s not regularly used to hail each other. If you talk to another boat a lot, use their MMSI number to hail them. Both of these suggestions will save others from hearing your constant calls to the same boats on channel 16–it gets really old after a while!
Some channels are ‘reserved’ for special use in the Bahamas. While in the Abacos, use channel 68 for hailing other boats and 16 for Bahamian businesses/marinas. Listen to 68 in the mornings at 8:15am for the local cruiser’s net. In Long Island the cruiser’s net is announced on channel 18. In Georgetown it occurs on channel 68 at 8:15 am. It’s a great way to find out what’s going on and ask for assistance for practically anything.
Even though the Coast Guard isn’t monitoring communications in the Bahamas you will be told when you’re abusing the radio. There are ‘radio nazis’ who love to tell others when they forget to switch to a working channel.
Marinas/Fuel Docks on the ICW – There are currents and tides on the ICW like we’ve never seen in the Chesapeake. In some places, the current is the primary driver—not the wind. Once you reach the coastal areas south of Beaufort NC, you need to consider the direction of the current when approaching or leaving a dock. Always approach a dock into the current to slow you down. When leaving, wait for slack tide or use the following methods when leaving a face dock:
Current is coming towards the bow – Let bow lines off first and allow the bow to swing away from the dock. If your dinghy is on davits, make sure it doesn’t swing into the pilings.
Current is coming towards the stern – Let the stern lines off first and put the boat in reverse to allow the stern to swing out. We learned this the hard way in Charleston!
Fuel Docks in the Bahamas – Have your own dock lines ready. None of the fuel docks have lines! Very few have fender protection either.
Marina prices – We discovered that many cruisers join the Royal Marsh Harbor Yacht Club to receive discounts on marina prices. Their web page doesn’t allow non-members to view the benefits but by word of mouth we learned that they get fantastic discounts. We will definitely join before visiting the Abacos again!