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Old 27-03-2011, 23:44   #1
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Crossing to the Bahamas

Hello Everyone,
I'm looking at planning a crossing to the Bahamas for the summer and would like to know the best way to plan this trip. I have a 25ft Catalina Tall Rig, and would like to make the journey in it. I have read that she could for sure make the journey, with the right weather. (wind out of the south only) but what other information/preparations are needed. What is the best place in florida to leave from, to arrive in Bimini. What kind of things do i need to make sure to have on the boat..(vhf, plenty of jackets/safety equipment, water,etc.) What paperwork is needed? What kind of costs am I looking at? How long would it take? Etc. Just anything that you can tell me to make me more knowledgeable would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Jack
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Old 28-03-2011, 06:16   #2
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

My favorite place to jump off to head to Bimini is No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne.

You need good charts and if you are doing the Bahamas, the consensus is the best are the Explorer Charts.

Absolutely you need all safety equipment and normal supplies.

You should be able to make the crossing in a day, but calculate your average speed and adjust your departure time so that you arrive when you want. Nice to arrive mid-day so you have good light to read the water. The Bimini entrances don’t have a lot of room for error. I think our first time we left at about 4:00 am and arrived at about noon. Our boat is however faster than yours so allow plenty of time.

Entry fee is $150 for boats less than 35’ and you will need cash for that.

You will need to check in with both Customs and Immigration. There are a lot of threads on this forum about checking into the Bahamas, so a little time searching will give you all the information you need. Bahama entry forms are available on line if you want to complete them before checking in or you can just use the forms they give you at the time. Follow this link Bahamas Entry Form Download

Make sure your passports are up to date.

How many provisions you take depends on how long you plan to be gone, how much storage you have, and how willing you are to pay Bahamas prices for food, etc.

A 25’ boat is on the small side for this voyage, but you won’t be the first or the last to do it, so plan carefully, don’t take chances with the weather and have a ton of fun.

George
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Old 28-03-2011, 06:21   #3
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Besides the advice you'll get in this thread, use the search feature in my sig line to find past threads on this topic. Lots and lots of info in the archives.

Welcome to CF!
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Old 28-03-2011, 07:24   #4
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

For a small boat crossing the Gulfstream to the Bahamas, I would suggest a technique known as "minimum time" crossing. The best place to cross is the Miami/Biscayne Bay areas for boats that can do 5 kts or more through the water. If you do less you need to work your way down to Key Largo or beyond.
- - First you need to know your normal speed while cruising. You take that number and divide it into 44 (the nautical miles from Biscayne light to the Bimini/Cat Cay area. This gives you the initial number of "no current" hours you will take to cross over.
- - The average speed of the Gulfstream seems to be about 2.5 kts so multiply those hours to cross above by 2.5 and this will give you the northward nautical miles you will be "set" during the crossing.
- - "Minimum time" crossing are based on holding a course perpendicular to the axis of the Gulfstream. For Biscayne light to Bimini that is about 105 degrees magnetic. This is the course you will hold for the crossing.
- - To compensate for the northward "set" the Gulfsteam will give you - you can proceed south along the Florida coast that amount of nautical miles before turning to the course of 105 degrees M. How this works is that you will end up sailing the 44 nm across the Gulfstream while at the same time being carried northward by the current. If done correctly you will pop out of the stream on the other side just outside Bimini or wherever you chose.
- - For 5 knot boat the calculations give you a number of about 22nm. So for Bimini you would head south along the coast to about Fowey Rocks light then turn to 105 degrees M. For 6 knots the calculation gives you 18 nm or a starting point about 5nm south of Biscayne Light.
- - Since the actual speed of the Gulfsteam is variable with it being very minor close to the Florida and Bahamas Banks and increasing as you get towards the axis of the stream, in practical terms you can "hedge" a little and rather than hugging the Florida coastline then turning - simple take a course of about 150 degrees for an hour or two and then turn to 105 degrees.
- - If you had a GPS track plot for your crossing you would see an "S" curve with your track starting out heading south of the pure point to point course, then bending north to cross over that direct course and finally bending back southward again to arrive off Bimini.
- - What you don't want to do is try to offset the set and drift of the Gulfstream northward by staying on your direct courseline and turning into the current. At 5 kts you would end up doing 2.5 kts or less while out in the middle of the crossing. At lower boat speeds it is possible you will be "stopped" and not going anywhere as your boat speed and the Gulfstream speed equalize.
- - The total real time to cross will be the 44nm divided by your boat speed plus the time to travel the extra mileage the Gulfstream is going to make you travel. For 5 knots that would be about 10 to 12 hours. So the suggestions to leave very early - even before dawn are good ones. You don't want to be trying to enter the Bahamas banks in the dark - if you have never done it before. I use the Explorer Charts waypoint "Triangle Rocks" which is between Bimini and Gun Cay as my "target" as the route can be done in the day or night. It is a very wide and clear path up onto the Banks where you can anchor until the next morning if necessary.
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Old 28-03-2011, 07:56   #5
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Hi:Good advice above,but I would want to arrive at your chosen destination in the earlier part of the day so that if , as often happens, trip takes longer,then you will have many hours of daylight ahead of you to sort things out and still get in before things get dark again. the Bahama banks are no place to be scratching about after nightfall;you will not be able to 'read' the water depth by the color,there are precious few navigational aids and uncharted coral heads grow to a few feet below the surface.
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Old 28-03-2011, 08:05   #6
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

I did about 12 gulf stream crossings in 26-foot sailboats. Depending on the weather I'd leave from either No Name Harbor or Angelfish Creek if bound for Bimini, though I think there is a lot to be said for choosing the Abacos for a first Bahamas cruise instead. The big difference compared to bigger boats is that you may desire nicer weather than some of them are willing to deal with. Obviously, it may take you a bit longer as well.

Every time I've checked into the Bahamas I've needed my passport and boat documentation papers. I'd recommend proof of insurance a well.

For returning to the U.S. it can be a big help to have your local boater's permits so you can clear in by phone. With a boat shorter than 30 feet you should not need to pre-pay the U.S. custom's decal.

Count on most things costing about 1.5X in the Bahamas what they do in the U.S. Make sure you are well stocked with boat parts, as such items that can be easily purchased at home can be harder to find and/or much more expensive in the Bahamas.
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Old 28-03-2011, 08:10   #7
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Going to Bimini in a 5 knot boat is best done from further south than Key Biscayne. Angelfish creek is a much better starting point. I have done a 5 knot crossing from there and it requires no "southing" against the current. One simply heads the boat due east and the current does all the work of carrying you north to Bimini. The 5 knot crossing took about 10 hours.

Get the explorer charts and have all of your registration paperwork. As has been said have the $150 ready, cash only. Technically you also need to have a limited radio operators license and a radio station license from the FCC to use your VHF in the Bahamas, though I have been asked for one and when I volunteered it the customs/immigration officer just shrugged.
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Old 28-03-2011, 11:29   #8
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Jack,
I'm from Madison, GA (now living in Charleston, SC). My last boat was a 1984 Catalina 25 tall rig, so we already have a few things in common. Where are you currently keeping your boat? Also, when do you plan on entering the Bahamas, and when do you plan on coming back out? Be aware that there are exponentially more thunderstorms/squalls in the Bahamas during the Summer months than there are during the Winter. Also, as the Summer progresses, you will have to watch the tropics very closely for storms that could potentially develop into hurricanes. I'm not sure I would want to have my boat in the water in the bahamas during August/September, but that's just me.
Like someone said above, the Abacos may be a better choice for a small boat cruising the Bahamas for the first time. There are tons of places to go, and it is mostly in the protected Sea of Abaco or on the Little Bahamas Banks.
If I were crossing from Florida to the Bahamas on a Catalina 25, I would leave Lake Worth and go to West End (58nm). From there, all of your sailing will be in protected waters.
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Old 28-03-2011, 18:38   #9
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

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Originally Posted by Lowcountry View Post
Jack,
I'm from Madison, GA (now living in Charleston, SC). My last boat was a 1984 Catalina 25 tall rig, so we already have a few things in common. Where are you currently keeping your boat? Also, when do you plan on entering the Bahamas, and when do you plan on coming back out? Be aware that there are exponentially more thunderstorms/squalls in the Bahamas during the Summer months than there are during the Winter. Also, as the Summer progresses, you will have to watch the tropics very closely for storms that could potentially develop into hurricanes. I'm not sure I would want to have my boat in the water in the bahamas during August/September, but that's just me.
Like someone said above, the Abacos may be a better choice for a small boat cruising the Bahamas for the first time. There are tons of places to go, and it is mostly in the protected Sea of Abaco or on the Little Bahamas Banks.
If I were crossing from Florida to the Bahamas on a Catalina 25, I would leave Lake Worth and go to West End (58nm). From there, all of your sailing will be in protected waters.


That sounds like a very good idea; right now I keep my boat back home in Augusta in Trade Winds Marina. I am planning it for the summer months because I will be out of college on break and that will leave me plenty of time. I have no yet determined how long I would like to stay, but I am a diver as well so I would like to see some of the life in the area.

How much weather could my Catalina 25 Tall Rig actually take? I am a pretty experienced sailor and am very comfortable sailing the boat. It's also rigged heavily and can take on a good amount of wind...
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Old 28-03-2011, 20:29   #10
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Quote:
Originally Posted by laxaholic View Post
How much weather could my Catalina 25 Tall Rig actually take? .
I find the real question in crossing the gulf stream is not what my boat can take, but rather what I can take. I'm the weak link by far.

My last crossing was a 150 mile, 30 hour sail on a Hunter 30, (Sale to Cape C). not a blue water boat at all. Seas were confused (NE swell, SE waves, then storms from NW) and a couple big storms came through which lasted a few hours each. (not predicted). The boat was fine and more than up to the conditions. I on the other hand was sleep deprived, a bit sick, exhausted, wet, cold and miserable. A broken autopilot and being continually airborne in the bunk when off contributing greatly to that. I get seasick easily which is something I need to consider when picking my crossings. Do you know how you do in rough conditions?

My worst crossing was in SE winds predicted at 25 that increased to 35 going from Angelfish Creek to Bimini. Close hauled the whole way in a 26 foot boat at night, solo with 12+ foot seas. Again, the boat faired fine, but I was miserable. The nice thing I learned, is that after an hour or so of puking, there is nothing more to give, so there is no reason to even try to get your head overboard. I could just sit there, dry heave and occasionally spit.

In contrast, most crossings have been very easy, relaxed, half snoozing in the cockpit maybe even reading a book.

Even the sailboat abandoned in "The Perfect Storm" was later found in fairly good condition. Pick your weather carefully and in accordance with what you can handle, not just what you feel your boat can take!
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Old 29-03-2011, 08:12   #11
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Quote:
How much weather could my Catalina 25 Tall Rig actually take?
Having owned a C25TR for 8 years, my answer would be "not too much." At 5,000lbs, the C25 is a light boat. With the tall rig, you need to start reefing at 15kts of wind. I wouldn't want to be on the C25 in 25kts of sustained wind. Also, weather helm is god-awful on those boats. Do you have a good strong autopilot?
On the bright side, average daily winds in the Bahamas during Summer months are 5-10kts slower than they are during the Winter months.
I'm in no way trying to discourage you from taking your trip. When I was there two years ago, I remember thinking that my C25 would have been capable of crossing over from Florida (with a perfect weather window) and cruising endlessly in the Abacos. That said, there were times and places under sail during my trip that I was uncomfortable in my Island Packet 35, which weighs 4X what the C25 weighs. You can do the trip in your boat, but you are going to need to wait for really good weather when you're going to be out on the ocean.
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Old 29-03-2011, 11:16   #12
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Can you clear the Bahamas on a boat that is just state documented or does it need to he coast guard documented as well? Reason being is they are taking their time getting my documentation back and I'm dying to go
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Old 29-03-2011, 11:22   #13
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

Irwin 28,
You can clear with state registered vessel provided you have the documents verifying registration numbers and size.
All the best,
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Old 29-03-2011, 11:24   #14
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Re: Crossing to the Bahamas

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Can you clear the Bahamas on a boat that is just state documented or does it need to he coast guard documented as well? Reason being is they are taking their time getting my documentation back and I'm dying to go

State registration is no problem in the Bahamas.
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Old 29-03-2011, 11:40   #15
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