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Old 25-04-2009, 11:33   #1
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Where to - Bahamas in January ?

After many winter sailing charter vacations in the BVI's we took the big step and bought our own boat and are planning to take our first (of many!) extended winter long Caribbean escapes aboard our Admiral 38 catamaran. We are now in the preliminary planning stages as we are inviting family and friends to join us for various segments in our 5 to 6 month winter escape.
We will have our catamaran down to Florida after Christmas and plan to cast off to the Bahamas early in January to start our adventure. First thoughts are to cruise the Bahamas for, say, 4 weeks, and then head south to Cuba (ok for us as Canadians) for another month or so before heading to the BVI's and then continue as far as the spirit moves, before getting the boat out of the hurricane season early in June.

Questions:
1. Are the Bahamas going to be too cool in January to take full advantage of our sun and snorkelling visions? Of course it will be a LOT warmer than our Canadian home, but we are looking forward to fun 'n' sun!
2. Have any of you "northern" cruisers who do similar winter snowbird winter escapes have any general itinerary ideas for 5-6 months?

There are so many experienced cruisers on this site so I look forward to lots of suggestions as we plan our first extended cruise this coming winter. Thanks in advance for your advice and suggestions!

Teej
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Old 25-04-2009, 13:06   #2
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I frequently sail in the Abacos, northern Bahamas in January. Usually it's fine for snorkeling, but every once in a while it's a bit too windy and cool to go without a wetsuit. (I hardly went in at all this last January) As one heads south, through the Bahamas chain, the wind associated with the cold fronts tends to be notably less and the water a little warmer.

I've only been in the Exumas once that time of the year for about a month, and snorkeled frequently. I think you'll find water's from the Exumas south will usually be okay for snorkeling that time of year, but you may get a few days here and there when stronger fronts move through where it's a bit cool.
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Old 25-04-2009, 13:08   #3
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Lots and lots of options in the Bahamas. Depends on what you prefer, totally deserted island, small settlements with no tourists, larger settlements with more hotels/restaurants/air connections, big city/night life/casinos.

I like a combo of the first two with occasional visits to the third to pick up friends. Go to the city if you need parts or major repairs you can't find elsewhere.

Following that itinerary from north to south: Abacos (Green Turtle, Marsh Harbour, lots of deserted islands), Eleuthera, Exumas, Long Island, Turks & Caicos, Hispaniola, PR, VI.

If you want some great, unspoiled diving areas try the east coast of Andros. Everything from shallow snorkeling to deep reefs. If you are an advanced diver there is a great wall dive on the edge of the Gulf Stream west of Bimini and worth a detour in that direction.

Good sailing,
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Old 26-04-2009, 07:21   #4
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Sounds like a lot of fun - good for you to take the step! We cruised for 3 years in the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean about 10 years ago and are looking forward to our upcoming 6 months in the Bahamas (by far our favorite spot)

A couple of things to think of (or not!)
1) You might have to wait for weather for a while in Florida in early January, so if your time table is dependent on getting to the Bahamas quickly, you might find yourself making bad choices you later regret.
2) 4 weeks sounds like a lot to be in one area when you have been chartering and zipping from spot to spot (and you still might like to cruise that way), but you might find that your pace slows dramatically when you are on your own boat and time is more freely available. For us, 4 weeks in the Bahamas would be merely scratching the surface - remember there are over 700 islands to check out if you want!
3) Have never been to Cuba (still off limits for Americans to spend money - hope that changes fast!) so don't know about the route there. From the Bahamas to the BVI, though, it is a SLOG to windward that took us close to 8 weeks to complete, moving as fast as weather permitted and following the advice in Bruce van Sant's "A Gentleman's Guide to Passages South". Obviously there are faster ways to do it, but it isn't a walk in the park any way you choose.
4) Getting out of hurricane season either means heading south to Trinidad or back north. Most Canadian snowbirds we met cruising made George Town, Exuma the southern terminus of their 6 month winter migration so their trip to "safety" was north.

Finally, on guests - best advice I have seen is to pick the place OR the time but not both. Of course, we are already breaking that rule with our guests flying to Hopetown for Christmas and we have not even left the US yet . . . hopefully our timetable will not force us into bad choices. We are hoping that almost 3 months to get from Virginia to Abaco is decent.

good luck, and have a TON of fun! Maybe we will see you out there . . .

Nica
s/v Calypso
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Old 26-04-2009, 08:34   #5
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Excellent advice from Sailingbeagels above. One of the biggest differences in my mind when going from chartering to this type of sailing is the importance of working with the weather. A big part of that is not having tight time commitments. I've been stuck in Florida for over a week waiting for the right weather to cross, and learned the hard way to wait until it's right.

I enjoy the Abacos, but with your time frame of only 4 weeks, and to get to nice weather more quickly, I might skip them on your way south and instead start with the Bimini group, then Berry's and on to the Exumas. The time I did this in January, it meant sailing close hauled across deeper water in fairly good sized seas.

If you are willing to take a bit more time, there are some advantages of starting with the Abacos: Just one short hop from Florida and you are on the Little Bahama Bank which knocks down the seas and allows you to start your travels through the Bahamas with islands close together. You can hit just the more populated islands or loose yourself for days in bays where you will be the only boat. Time it right and you can ride a mild cold front south to Eleuthera and from there to the Exumas.

I think I just talked myself into this later option when I head over this January. Perhaps I'll run into you. All the best with your preparations and new boat.

- Dave S/V Aurora.
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Old 28-04-2009, 23:18   #6
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Sailingbeagles and Nautical 62: Thank you both for your input and strong endorsement of the Bahamas. I very much enjoyed and appreciated the thoughts. I provided an earlier response but don't see it on this thread so I'm afraid my inexperience on this website came into play. At any rate, I'm trying again under the "quick reply" tab.

Your comments have really provided food for thought in terms of my early thinking to spend only a month in the Bahamas enroute to Cuba and beyond. Your plans to spend 6 months cruising there next winter is a pretty convincing endorsement of what the Bahamas obviously has to offer. As a result I have now mentioned to my wife that perhaps what we should be doing in our first cruising season aboard our own boat is to think about only experiencing the Bahamas and Cuba the first winter and then returning to the Virgins and beyond to the eastern Caribbean the following winter.

It is clear that I need to do some research on the Bahamas. Have you any recommendations for reading material/cruising guides for the Bahamas.

I have looked up some info now on the Abacos and it looks like it might be a good first destination as "newbie" extended cruisers. One early concern is wondering if the month of January in the Abacos is going to feel "summery" enough to really enjoy our new adventure and winter escape when the objective is to leave our winter attire behind and live aboard in shorts, T's and bathing suites.

Again thank you very much for taking the time to reply and get me thinking more about extending our time in the Bahamas.

teej
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Old 29-04-2009, 04:34   #7
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Hi, teej,

Thanks for the thanks . . . I thought of another thing too - it takes some real time to get to know your own boat. I know there is no way we could have reasonably thought of heading off with only 10 months prep time if we were not going on a boat already very familiar to us. Learning the ropes in the US and then in the Bahamas, where you are closer to home, trying some offshore jaunts where you can get in quickly to fix what broke is a good practice for those longer (and more taxing) hauls.

Bahamas research - where to begin! Steve Dodge guide to Abaco is a favorite of many on this board, and our favorite Exuma guide is Steve Pavlidis's. Explorer charts are wonderful (this is not from use on the water yet - they were not out the last time we went cruising!) And troll this board and the SSCA board, among many, many others - I know I have been having fun reading Pelican's blog (www.blog.svpelican.com) and our friends on Namaste as well (S.V.Namaste)

Dram away! Maybe we'll see you out there - our plan is Abacos in December and into January, then southbound to the Exumas and Eleuthera.

All the best,

Nica
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Old 29-04-2009, 05:23   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teej View Post
... One early concern is wondering if the month of January in the Abacos is going to feel "summery" enough to really enjoy our new adventure and winter escape when the objective is to leave our winter attire behind and live aboard in shorts, T's and bathing suites...
teej
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I think you’ll find the winter (Jan/Feb) weather in the Abacos to be similar to summer (Jun/Jul) weather in Edmonton .
You first winter cruising the southern climes will seem luxurious; but once you’ve acclimatised, you’ll find sixty degree temperatures to be uncomfortably cool.
No danger of frostbite, and no windchill factor, though!

Abacos:
Average temperatures for January:
Hi = 77̊F, Low = 66̊F, Water = 70̊F

Record temperatures for January:
Hi
= 86.4̊F, Low = 41.4̊F
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Old 29-04-2009, 06:05   #9
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Teej: Thanks for the kind words.


I think Sailingbeagels said everything there is to be said about guides, so I won't repeat any of it.

Another way to look at the weather in the Abacos in January: It's better than Florida and people flock to Florida all the time in January. I've been there 5 times in January now I think. The water is often cool enough it feels just a tad uncomfortable when you first jump in but quickly get used to it, much the way many swimming pools are.

A strong cold front can make things less comfortable, but by that I mean maybe you throw on a windshirt and the snorkeling isn't as appealing. These are hit and miss. I'd say 80% of the time I'm happy to snorkel. The other issue with the cold fronts regarding snorkeling is the wave action kicks up the silt, so visibility isn't as good.

One thing I've learned about the cold fronts is that if you get off the boat and go to a lee shore, the beach may be fine for swimming or sunning once you get out of the wind. Due to the low nature of most the islands, you'll almost always still be in most the wind at anchor. Get to shore and it can be a different story.

Some images of the lower Abacos in my webpage below.
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Old 29-04-2009, 06:14   #10
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You might want to invest in lightweight "shortie" wetsuits (2 mm neoprene). They can make the difference between goosebumps and comfort.
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Old 29-04-2009, 07:27   #11
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One thing I would add to the good advice above is that if you plan to head to the BVI's on the "Thorny Path", especially in a catamaran, you can't really get past the DR until the winds and seas have abated a bit from the winter...and that means towards the end of March. Thus you may have more time to wander around the Bahamas/Cuba/T&C's than you think.
In your situation...I'd hit the Abacos first...then leave out of Little Harbor for Royal Island & Eleuthra....cross to the Exumas and work my way south. I would save Cuba for the return trip as it would add many hundreds of miles of windward work to your journey.
Pavlidas' new guide to the Bahamas now incorporates his guide to the Turks and Caicos which is a MUST for crossing those banks. Dodge is best for the Abacos but Pavlidas rules on the rest.
Please note also that there is a NEW cruising guide to the Dominican Republic that is free on line for download! Noonsite: Updated DR Cruising Guide 2009 (available here in English, French & Spanish)
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Old 29-04-2009, 23:07   #12
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Thank you again Sailingbeagles and Nautical 62 for your further suggestions and input which really have us now thinking that our first thoughts of spending only 4 weeks in the Bahamas needs reconsidering. I'm really enjoying your very informative website, Dave, and have added it to my favourites for ready reference.
Gord, thanks for the weather indicators for the Abacos in January, and you're right, those do look like Edmonton temps in June and July which means that most January days in the Abacos will be just fine for us.
Hud, I've got a full suit for scuba which I've hauled back and forth for BVI charters, but now that we own our own boat and can leave everything on board, adding shorties for my wife and me for casual snorkelling makes great sense.
Camaraderie, thanks for the routing and timing suggestions - leaving Cuba to the end is now worthy of full consideration. And thank you for the link to the free DR cruising guide. Cool!

I am very grateful for the interest in this thread and am really open to any further suggestions, "must sees", etc. The suggestions you have made for cruising guides is also appreciated and will surely be helpful for us to get a feel for where we should go. I will try and source them and pour over them for summer reading while counting down the months to next January when our first extended cruise unfolds.

Cheers!
teej
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