Most of the advice so far has been excellent - but here are some very basic considerations, especially as "20-something" folks.
1. When you leave the USA or Canada
you are also leaving behind all the legal
"protections" against "stupidity and naiviety" and entering a world where you are solely and completely responsible for your actions and any consequences of your activities.
- - What this means is - violating any local laws intentionally or accidentally, or getting drunk, rowdy or argumentative while within a foreign country means you will be going to jail, you will be convicted (regardless of any right or wrong - you are the "outsider" and a potential source of money for the locals and local government), and you will be asked to leave or be deported. If deported, you will be forever denied entry to almost every other country in the world for the rest of your life. So you must be attentive, patient, polite, and submissive with any officials and make sure that you do not get involved in any activities that might get you arrested. Your home country can do nothing for you legally beyond recommending a local lawyer (who will also see you as a "revenue source").
- - Most countries guard their local natural resources and prohibit fishing or taking of marine
organisms by visitors, or require a fishing license
and also have restrictions on where or what you can fish
for, etc. Especially the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands
. Trying to live off your own fishing, lobstering, etc., is not easy. Most of all the edible sealife in the Caribbean
has been caught and consumed by the locals - basically - the fish
, etc. are not there anymore. However, just as there are folks with "green thumbs" in gardening; there are folks who "know how to fish" and manage to catch plenty while everybody else is looking at empty hooks. Here again, there are "parks" and "reserves" that you must be aware of and not attempt to fish there - even - if you see locals fishing there.
2. The Boat - you can find excellent boats - under 30 feet - that have been sailed by other "young people" at reasonable costs and are actually in quite good seaworthy
condition. Make sure the draft
is less than 6 ft (1.8 meters). These boats are not attractive to middle age and older cruisers so are available at reasonable prices - almost "ready to go." However, you will be living in a "pup tent" environment
and walking and climbing over each other most of everyday. "Old folks" cannot deal with that kind of living so go for the larger boats.
3. Insurance - Inside the USA you must have insurance to be in a marina or boatyard. City owned mooring fields generally also require insurance. Outside the USA it is not required and is usually only necessary for major theft or damage to your boat or somebody else's boat. Cruisers with large, new boats all have insurance mainly because the loan company requires it, Or their investment in the boat is too large to abandon if something happens. Or they are financially vulnerable should they be sued. If you have no assets, nobody will bother to sue you as there is nothing to collect. A company called I.M.I.S in Annapolis
can sell you "liability only" insurance which is all the boatyards
inside the USA require.
4. Moorings, anchoring
, food. You can generally anchor
just about anywhere outside the USA for free. Most moorings are privately owned and not available to you. Finding a free anchorage site inside the USA and especially Florida can be difficult. Speaking of inside Florida - The Florida Keys
are fun and wonderful - but - there are significant ecological restrictions and "beyond belief" fines for damaging any of the local ecology. You really have to be aware of where and when and how you can anchor. Mooring are available but expensive. I would recommend skipping the Florida Keys and going directly to the Bahamas until you are all very experienced in sailing, anchoring
and storm tactics.
- - Food is very expensive in the Bahamas and most other Caribbean islands as it is all imported and rarely grown locally. Get as many plastic - sealable - containers as can fit in the boat to store personal items, food (cans and packages), and anything else. An alternative is a kitchen "vacuum packer" or sturdy "Ziplock" type baggies. Salt
air is very damp and will rust cans and parts
and make stored clothing
yuckie after only a short time. Speaking of clothing
, it is rarely worn on board except for a swimming suit and/or t-shirt. Ashore it is another matter, these are poor and proud people who are rather conservative. Wear trousers and a regular shirt when dealing with officials or visiting shopping
areas or tourist sites. Visitors in shorts and tee-shirts or bathing suits are marked by the locals at "ugly/disrespectful tourists" and are prime "marks" fo being relieved of their money and valuables. For females - shirt with short sleeves (no bare shoulders) and even bare feet in sandals/flip flops is not respectful. Bottom line, you can have a lot of fun and pretty much do what you want - except when dealing with officials or visiting certain areas/cities.
5. Safety - This is a biggie, but simply put use common sense and plan ahead. As stated "piracy" is not a factor in the Bahamas (if your ignore government
officials and their fees). Theft is a problem as the "paradise" atmosphere can make you lax and not vigilant about locking up the boat, locking the dinghy
, dinghy motor
and fuel tank
with small stainless steel
chain and strong padlocks. Do not leave anything in a beached dinghy that you do not mind getting taken/stolen. Do not carry your passports with you unless you are going to check-in/out or going to a bank to change money. You can get local money from ATM everywhere so large amounts of cash onboard is not necessary. Locate or build a "hiddie-hole" somewhere on the boat to store excess cash, electronics
, passports, etc. to prevent them from getting stolen when you are away from the boat. Remember, any local stealing from you will rarely be caught or prosecuted since you are the "foreigner" or transient who will not be around if and when the criminal ever gets to court. Simply put, "no witness/accuser, no conviction" - so the local officials think why bother. Anything from simple theft up to murder is rarely successfully prosecuted when a transient cruiser is the victim.
- - This means you are solely responsible for your own safety - so use common sense and avoid getting in situations that expose yourself to problems with locals. Then you will have a glorious and fun time without nasty "incidents" or future damage to your ability to travel.
- - Boat safety is subjective beyond making sure the boat is truly seaworthy
. Different cruisers/sailors have different levels of tolerance and abilities to prevent and recover from problems at sea. Yet again, it all boils down to common sense and being a little conservative until you reach a level of experience that can "handle" more advanced problems. Almost every sailor/cruiser will agree that having a "deadline" or "must be there by" is a sure invitation to disaster or major grief. . .
- - Navigation
- Mandatory -> Get the Explorer Chart books
for the Bahamas!!!!!! They are not cheap but they are the only reliable charts
. Good guide books
with plenty of "recent" harbor/anchorage sketch charts are also very helpful. " Recent" being in the last 10 years. But basically all you need is the Explorer Charts, two or more hand held GPS's, a hand compass
, and binoculars. Everything in the Bahamas is visible to your eyes during daylight hours. Night sailing is not recommended unless you are experienced in Bahamas waters.
- - If you remember that you and you alone are totally responsible for your safety and happiness you will have an experience of a lifetime and might just like a lot of us old-timers out here - develop a strong distaste for "big brother" governments who like to run your life for you and "protect" you from yourself.