“What’s in the Goombay Smash?” I asked the our dark-skinned Bahamian bartender.
“Well, first you start wit da coconut rum … ” she started in. When she finished, Phillip piped up:
“What’s in your Bahama Mama?” he asked.
“Well, first you start with da coconut rum … ” she rattled on again. Every drink it seems, in the Bahamas, “starts with the coconut rum.” And you have to say that with an “Island accent, Mon.” You can also probably guess Phillip and I said it plenty during the entire trip. Every happy hour began with us concurring: “First you start wit da coconut rum.”
Heck yeah! Cheers!
Ahoy followers. In HaveWind time, we have just entered the Bahamas. How cool is that? Last time we took you along on a beautiful, glassy passage across the Gulf Stream. Thankfully, we had a wonderful window open up for us which allowed a smooth two-day passage all the way from Key West to West End with winds of only 5 kts or less (albeit north) in the Stream.
Our decision to explore the northern Abacos first was both weather- and wind-dependent. We knew, right off the cusp of hurricane season, in December and January, that frequent north fronts pop up which are usually brief but intense, but the “Christmas Winds” (often 15-25 kts) definitely blow. Fellow cruisers (shout-out to BaBaLu if you see this Bob! : ) had told us the barrier islands in the northern Abacos offer many good anchorages and marinas, that could provide reliable protection during those frequent fronts. For this reason, rather than choosing to shoot straight across the Great Bahamas Bank first and head first for the more remote, spacious islands of the Berries and Exumas, we decided to ride the Stream as far north as we could (to West End) so we would enter the Bahamas near the Little Bahamas Bank and begin our exploration up north in the protected Abacos.
Here are some of the various routes cruisers often choose to traverse the Bahamas:
We also knew the first thing we would want once the winds started to blow, would be a nice stretch of beach on the Atlantic shore to allow us to tear up some ocean surf on our kites. The fact that we like when the wind blows 20-25 kts was one very big advantage for Phillip and I, because we did experience many, many, (many!) windy days in the Bahamas in December and January. If this was typical of a winter season there (which the locals seemed to say it was, albeit a bit colder and windier), then plan to have your wetsuits for winter water activities because the water was a bit cold (around 68 degrees once we got further north and into the Atlantic). And, as far as the wind goes, either make sure you have enough books and games to occupy you for those days spent on the boat or … just a suggestion … but you can always pick up kitesurfing!!! It’s never too late! Phillip and I had some wicked sessions in the Bahamas, that we cannot wait to share with you!
But, first, we must check in! There are only about two dozen places you can check in (i.e., clear customs) in the Bahamas. We chose West End because it was the furthest north point of entry. We were pleased to find the channel to West End was well-marked and easy to navigate. As you guys already probably know, Phillip and I always try to plan to enter a new port during the daytime, and we came in around 8:00 a.m., well after the sun had risen, so the channel was easy to spot using our Explorer Charts and Steve Dodge’s Guide to the Abacos. Highly recommend those. If you are planning a trip to the Bahamas, they’re the first thing you should buy and start studying.
The deck hands at West End were really nice, too, helping us get docked safe and sound and telling us everything we needed to know about the check-in process. It was really exciting to see our baby girl docked in the exotic (okay, exotic to meee) Bahamas for the first time! Just look at her!
The cruising permit for the Bahamas is $150 and allows the boat to stay in the islands for one year and you (the cruiser) are permitted to come and go for 90 days, then you have to renew if you are planning to stay longer. More info about the customs process and cruising permits if you are interested here. We found the check-in process to be super easy. They opened at 9:00 a.m. and it was just a quick 15-minute run-through, then we were stamped and official!
Our next chore (as it always is when we dock up after an offshore passage), was to wash the boat down. Even at $0.35/gal for the water at the marina, it was well worth it. Our baby was salty. But once clean, she was ready to proudly don her new colors! The brilliant yellow, blue and black of her Bahamian courtesy flag! See you later “Q!”
We really knew nothing about West End and found it to be a fantastic little quaint resort with a tiki bar and restaurants, beach games, poolside cabanas and music, surfboards and paddle boards all lined on the beach for you to play with and use on the stunning Atlantic coast.
What was the most important “toy” on the beach, though? These huge hammocks for napping!
Because boy did we. One goombay smash and a belly full of conch salad and this team was out!
“First you start wit da coconut rum … ”
“Add some tasty conch salad, yum … ”
“Then you’re out for the count, Mon!” ; )
That siesta will probably fall up there in one of my Top Ten favorite naps. Man, I may need to recount those some day, as a few are whirring through my mind right now. That would be a fun blog! Do you think you could recount your Top Ten siestas?
Our next big treat in West End was something we had both been looking forward to, you could literally say, for years. I’ll never forget Pam Wall’s energetic little booming voice when we first saw and heard her speak at the Miami Boat Show in February, 2015. “Go to the Bahamas!” she squealed. Visions of green waters, sea turtles and palm trees instantly filled my head. And Pam chimed back in with “Fill yourself with their fresh Bahamian bread!” Mmmmm … Phillip and I had been talking about that Bahamian bread ever since. Pam probably mentioned it 8-10 times in her speech. They should make it a drinking game. Go to one of her Bahamas seminars and each time she mentions “Bahamian bread,” you each take a shot of rum. I can promise you’d be a happy sailor after that speech. *hiccup*
But, I didn’t know where we were going to get the bread initially. Did they only serve it at restaurants, or perhaps in bakeries? Or only the locals baked it for themselves and you had to know someone who knew someone who could buy a loaf for you? I had no clue, but that’s what makes it an adventure. I had just wrapped my first “spa experience” of the trip (this is what Phillip and I now call a nice hot marina shower, thanks to some friendly cruisers in Pensacola Cay who coined the term for us).
Ahhh … a whole new person! Post-shower selfie to send to the (other) Captain!
And, I was setting up our cockpit table on the boat with a perfectly-chilled bottle of wine that we had been saving for this specific event: the day we made it across the Gulf Stream and had finally docked in the Bahamas. I was waiting for Phillip to finish his “spa treatment” to join me. I don’t know if you know this, but Phillip is a bit of a shower diva. If he is craving a luxurious long, hot shower, he’s going to get it. Trust me! I’m usually back from the showers before him, but I was perfectly content to wait.
Just then I saw a cheerful-looking elderly black woman with what appeared to be her granddaughter happily walking the docks, her granddaughter heaving and pulling a dock cart that was about twice her size behind her. I didn’t know what she was doing, but I watched for a bit as she and the adorable little girl walked the cart down our finger pier and the woman began to look eagerly at each boat, I sensed looking for people aboard. I also sensed she may be trying to sell us something that I figured I wasn’t going to want. I’m not much of a souvenirey-type person and I didn’t know if the locals would try to panhandle a bit or sell you their wares. I had no clue and I was prepared to politely decline and send her along so Phillip and I could enjoy our celebration alone. But, then she said those magic words. Words I could in no way turn down. Words that would have prompted me to invite her right down into our cockpit and pop the bubbly with her myself.
“Would you like to buy some fresh-baked Bahamian bread?” she asked.
A little stunned, I struggled to answer at first. Thinking to myself, ”Oh, so this is how you get it? They just come dockside and sell it? How freaking convenient!”
“Yes!” I practically shouted. “I want two!” And two I got. A fresh white loaf (I figured you have to try the original) and, upon the woman’s expert recommendation, a cinnamon raisin loaf as well. Only $5.00 a piece for those heavenly loaves. Phillip and I then enjoyed a true Bahamian feast. Crisp popped champagne to celebrate all the months and prep work that went into our voyage to the Bahamas with fresh Bahamian bread to boot! Still warm from the oven. Pam, you would have eaten the whole thing! (We almost did!)
Definitely a memorable moment worth celebrating. Cheers! The celebration continued with our first night out on Bahamian soil at a glorious, decadent little restaurant right next to the marina where we indulged on even more Bahamian bread and lobster tail. Mmm-mmm-hmmm!
While West End was a very cute little place, Phillip and I had already made our mind up that we wouldn’t stay long. It was just for us to check-in, clean the boat, fill the tanks and get ready to toss the lines the following morning to make our way into Little Bahamas Bank. Our study of the Explorer Charts in the many months before our departure date told us there were essentially two routes you could take from West End into Little Bahamas Bank. One is known as the “Indian Cut” and–we were told–this route could be, in some places and depending on the tide, a “very skinny six feet.” Leery of this option, particularly as it would be our first trek into the Bahamas, we opted for the longer route up north to Memory Rock, where there is a well-known inlet right next to Memory Rock that, albeit narrow but if followed closely, allows a good 10-12 feet of clearance into Little Bahamas Bank, even at low tide.
“Yeah, that one,” I remember telling Phillip many months ago. “The ten foot one.”
We do not like skinny water. Some more info on those two different routes, Indian Cut and Memory Rock, for you here. While our time in the Bahamas has definitely made us (because you just have to get used to it) more tolerant in shallow depths, we still do not opt to risk depths that are too shallow for our boat if we can avoid it. With many Bahamian cays and harbors now behind us, I can now say we have traveled in depths of 5.8’ and we didn’t touch bottom. While our manufacturing specs on the Niagara claim we have a draft of 5.2′, that’s a testament to the boat when it is dry. Not when it’s loaded down with the many, many bags of wine, booze, canned goods, water, oil, engine parts, sails, etc. All that stuff that is necessary for cruising, but that brings the boat down lower in the water. Well, we can now safely saw we are least not 5.8’. But how close we were to hitting bottom at that point in time, I do not want to know. Thankfully we knew it was soft, so we were clenched and braced for a sandy bump or two. But we’re thrilled it did not happen!
Phillip and I had also decided to leave West End as early as light would allow so we could navigate Memory Rock in the bright, safe light of day as well as make it to our first intended stop, Mangrove Cay, also before the sun went too far down so we would have sufficient light to safely anchor. Our next intended stop thereafter would be Great Sale Cay before we made our way north into the Sea of Abaco. Here is a map of our destinations:
I’ll admit, Phillip and I were both a little nervous about navigating Memory Rock. Much of our work, education and training this past year (particularly my Sea School and Captain’s License courses) were meant to prepare us for encounters just like this–hairy, rocky inlets that would require keen and precise navigation to ensure our prized possession and our ticket to world travel didn’t collide into a reef or rock and cause significant damage. Following the explicit Explorer Charts headings and Pam Wall’s incredibly helpful and adamant advice to “not turn east into Little Bahamas Bank until you are with 1/4 mile of Memory Rock. 1/4 mile!” she screeched to us via the Delorme (which by the way proved very helpful in making navigation and weather routing decisions such as these).
So we didn’t. We watched the depths as they dropped from 20 to 15 to 12 ft and did not turn right into the Bank until our GPS coordinates were within .25 of the coordinates for Memory Rock. Then we turned, watched the depths, which remained between 11 and 13 and carefully traversed our way along the path detailed by the Explorer Charts. Soon we found ourselves back in a safe 17 feet of water breathing big sighs of relief, so happy we had our first “hairy” entrance behind us.
While planning and dreaming about the Bahamas for many months in 2017, navigating the sometimes tricky and dangerous reefs and rocky inlets was not something Phillip and I were looking forward to. But it’s something you have to accept and prepare for if you want to travel to places like this. It’s the “eustress” (I call it) of cruising, the good kind of stress. And, it was well worth enduring this time, because Phillip and I were rewarded with crystal-clear, lush water soon after we made our way into Little Bahamas Bank. Both of us could not stop staring. There were so many shades of jewel-toned greens, crystal blues, pearly whites, all swirling and flowing underneath our boat. The water was breathtaking!
It was the first time we were watching our boat traverse over the crystal waters of the Bahamas, and I swear it’s like you could feel her perking up, raising her bow, looking around and taking it all in. Plaintiff’s Rest was just as excited to be there as we were. We knew when we saw those colorful, can’t-really-describe them waters that we had made it–into the Bahamas! We motored over to Mangrove Cay just in time to drop the hook, with an hour or two of daylight so we could do our first Bahamian anchor check, which can practically be done from the boat, because you can see down, even to 13 feet and almost make out the anchor exactly. You’ll see in the video! But we were ready to get wet!
A quick dip and it was soon time for happy hour, a stunning sunset, and a special Chef Phillippe dinner on the boat. (I believe it was Cuban-style mojo pork tenderloin with black beans and yellow rice that night, but don’t quote me on that. We eat so good on the boat, every night is finer than a five-star gourmet feast!)
Our plan was to get up with the sun again the next day so we could make it well within daylight to our next stop, Great Sale Cay, and spend more time playing and exploring there before nightfall. And while I would have never believed it, the water that day was even more beautiful, easily the most breathtaking of our entire trek through the Abacos. Just. You. Wait. There’s a little preview of it at the end of the video, and some footage we are very excited to share, coming at you next time. Can you say a Silks Session at Sunset??
Yeeeessss. That’s all coming to you next time. For now go with us! Check in at West End, down your first Goombay Smash (followed by a hammock crash) and join us as we make our way into Little Bahamas Bank! Enjoy!