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Old 15-05-2013, 14:10   #1
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Sailing from Florida to The Bahamas

We are planning to sail down the ICW with our family this fall. Once we get to the Florida coast what is the best spot to leave from to get to the Bahamas? We want to cruise through the islands so there is no rush. Plan to continue on to St. Thomas USVI. Has anyone done this and which islands did they visit, routs etc...Thank you.
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Old 15-05-2013, 14:22   #2
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Re: Sailing from Florida to The Bahamas

You will get lots of suggestions on this, as there are many routes and itineraries. My suggestion for the most fun and easiest sailing is to keep heading down the ICW past Miami and into the Keys, then hopping offshore from somewhere like Marathon, or Tavernier, or Key Largo and riding with the Gulf Stream and wind helping you, then check in at Bimini (easy and quick), head across the Bahama Banks to the Berry Islands, then Nassau, then on to the Exumas.

Another good option is to go Miami to West End, then across the Little Bahama Bank to Green Turtle and the Abacos. From there you work your way south to Eleuthera, the Exumas, etc.

The advantage of going further south, then sailing northeast is that you aren't fighting the Gulf Stream current the whole way.

Probably the most popular routes are Lake Worth Inlet (Palm Beach) to West End, or Miami to Bimini, but in both cases you will be crabbing into the current to get across, most likely with the wind on the nose, so it can be slow going. Prevailing good weather winds are from the southeast. You generally want to avoid winds with a strong north component when crossing the Gulf Stream, particularly for the first time.

One way to decide where to cross is to keep heading south down the ICW until you have a favorable weather window, and then go from there, heading back northeast to whichever Bahamas port of entry makes the most sense. In other words, if you get to Palm Beach and it looks like it will be light winds for a day or so, go for a fast motorsail to West End. If the weather is bad, continue on to Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, or the Keys. Myself, I find it much more fun and interesting hanging out down in the Keys waiting for weather than hanging out in North Lake Worth, where many wait for weeks some times. Though North Lake Worth is a decent anchorage, with good access to fuel, water, groceries, and marine supplies.
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Old 15-05-2013, 14:31   #3
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Re: Sailing from Florida to The Bahamas

Thank you! This is very helpful!
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Old 15-05-2013, 22:52   #4
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Re: Sailing from Florida to The Bahamas

Some great thoughts by Kettlewell above.

I'll just add:

I like to stage for crossing to West End from Lake Worth/Palm Beach. There is plenty of free anchoring - restaurants, fuel, marine stores are within an easy walk. If the wind is blowing hard out of the SSE, I may head on to Fort Lauderdale to get a better angle on the stream and winds, otherwise, I'll stay and leave from Lake Worth. Rather than stay up and sail all night, I prefer a 3-4 am start which gets me to WE with plenty of time. I feel Lake Worth is fairly easy to exit at night.

I haven't yet sailed from Florida south of Georgetown, but will be doing BVI to Florida in 3 weeks. My feeling however is that after checking in at WE, it's all all a matter of preferences, weather and draft. One can blast south as quickly as possible or take a very leisurely pace. I personally feel the Abacos have a great deal to offer and are worth spending time in if possible.

My only other thought is that strong S-SE winds can suck more than mild N winds when crossing. Beware of overly simplistic rules about what to do or not to do. Similarly, mild cold fronts are not necessarily something to be feared but can be your ticket to heading south.

I don't believe any book or cruising guide is a bible, but I do think there is some very good, sound advice to be had from reading A Genleman's Guide....
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Old 16-05-2013, 06:14   #5
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Good posts above. Plan to spend some time in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon for your final US provisioning. It really is a great mooring field/community.

Ill echo the sentiment of start farther south of your intended destination! That extra boost from the stream is great. We crossed from Angelfish to Bimini in March with a 10kt N wind. That was an awesome sail - 8-9 knots the entire way.

Bimini - its OK, convenient customs at Big Game. Browns Marina is nice.

Chub - strange spot, great fishing though. Nice NE wind anchorage.

Nassau - move on as quickly as possible. The snorkeling off Rose Island is good.

All points east and south - NOW youre in the bahamas! By far the most amazing reefs ive ever seen are off of Egg Island/spanish wells.
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Old 16-05-2013, 06:17   #6
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Ps - stock up on fishing lures! Wire leaders mandatory. You should always be trolling underway (unless youve already got too much fish.)
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Old 16-05-2013, 06:32   #7
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Re: Sailing from Florida to The Bahamas

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My only other thought is that strong S-SE winds can suck more than mild N winds when crossing. Beware of overly simplistic rules about what to do or not to do. Similarly, mild cold fronts are not necessarily something to be feared but can be your ticket to heading south.
This is true. Even crossing the Gulf Stream you can do it in reasonable north winds. What I often do is wait until after the frontal passage with its squalls and thunderstorms and then judge how strong the north winds are before heading out. A frontal passage in the middle of the Gulf Stream, which breeds thunderstorms anyway, can be nasty.

Some people wait for weeks and weeks, sometimes months, for the perfect weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Yes, the Gulf Stream can be nasty in strong northerly winds, but no it isn't death in 15-20 from the north. Maybe a bit rough in the middle, but it is over with quick.
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Old 28-05-2013, 10:47   #8
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Re: Sailing from Florida to The Bahamas

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Originally Posted by Kettlewell View Post

Some people wait for weeks and weeks, sometimes months, for the perfect weather window to cross to the Bahamas. Yes, the Gulf Stream can be nasty in strong northerly winds, but no it isn't death in 15-20 from the north. Maybe a bit rough in the middle, but it is over with quick.
I crossed one night in 20 knots of north wind. I didn't think we'd sink, but I was so ready to get off the boat that I just about was ready to jump off and swim in by the time we hove to off of Bimini, waiting for dawn to go in.
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