I've did several trips to the Bahamas in pocket cruisers with 3 foot and 2.5 foot drafts. I've also sailed much of the Abacos in a boat with a draft of 5 foot 4 inches. While I felt that for the most part I could go where I wanted in the deeper draft boats, I did note there were also many places no longer accessible. For me, the difference is enough that I'm planning to sell my current
boat that is now in charter
at the end of the contract
in favor of a shallower draft boat. Admittedly, I like to explore some of the more out of the way places that often are shallower.
In the Abacos, Joe's Cay, and the Carter's Cay bank are two places I would not have even attempted with a draft over 5 feet.. At over 5 feet, you will need close to high tide to get in and out of Little Harbour and the same may apply with the Lubber's Quarter channel and the sounds of Treasure Cay and Man-o-war. Some of the bays, like the one by the dock
on Manjack required very precison anchoring to be off the bottom at low tide with a draft over 5 feet, but would be easy at a bit under 4. I've traversed the long shoal off the NW tip of Manjack in my pocket cruisers but didn't even consider it at over 5 feet. I also used to take the inside route
inshore of Whale Cay instead of the longer route
on the outside.
I had similar experiences in the Exumas
and had a few times when the wind
picked up, that I could get into the protection in front of everyone instead of being out in deeper water
and more exposed. I've never been to the Ragged or Juamento chains, but would love to and understand a boat over 5 feet will present many limitations there as well.
How important these limitations are will depend on your cruising style. If you want to be able to duck into places like Little Harbor for lunch and then leave again, regardless of tides, or visit the less visited, shallower islands, it will matter more. As those above have said I don't think you will be unhappy or seriously hindered with a boat a bit over 5 feet. However, I thought it only fair to mention that in the Bahamas, there can be notable differences in what you can do with a boat needing less than 4 feet and one needing more than 5. (I'll also note that in a boat of your size range, there's really no way to get much shallower than you've mentioned without going to a multi-hull.)