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Old 30-11-2021, 13:26   #1
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New England to Bahamas in April

I am in my 3rd year of owning a larger sailboat and want to get more ocean miles under my belt. Am considering a spring voyage from Newport to Harbour Island in the Bahamas. Then onto FL and coastal hops up the coast to bring her back to E-LIS. I've done about 3K offshore miles as watch captain and have done a ton of keelboat racing. Last year, I sailed my previous boat (outside Cape Cod) to Maine which had me >60 miles offshore at times. Have also crossed the Gulf Stream about two dozen times on family and friends boats.

Nonetheless, I have a lot to learn. This would be a warmup to next year's planned trip to the Leeward Islands.

Boat is a well outfitted HR49 with recent major refit. She is now on the hard in MA and needs some work which should be done by March.

My plan would include using a weather routing service and bringing one or two professionals onboard for the trip south. Straight shot or coastal hopping are options and TBD.

Thots, suggestions or other comments welcome.
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Old 30-11-2021, 17:26   #2
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

Honestly, the trip you are describing is not much of a challenge under ordinary conditions. Your experience appears to be more than adequate and you have a great boat. The only real question is whether to cross the gulf stream early or late. Personally, I would sail down the coast (the 100ft contour was my preferred route heading south) to either Fort Lauderdale if you want to arrive first at Grand Bahama Island, or down to the upper Keys for a crossing to Bimini. Staying close to the US gives you a lot of options if the weather turns bad, and in April strong cold fronts and their accompanying strong northerlies are a very real possibility. Even then, southbound on a 49' boat would not be extraordinarily dangerous, although it might not be to everyone's liking...

Have fun I envy you!
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Old 30-11-2021, 17:32   #3
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

I took my cruiser up from Key West to NJ - in April 2021. I can tell you the weather can get snotty - perhaps the worst part was the Chesapeake Bay. But the winds were strong so you may need the ICW for at least part of the way.
As long as you are not on a schedule you should be fine - but I was hoping the weather would be great - the further north we got the rougher the weather...
By the time you hit the Carolinas - you may be in fairly good weather.
Good Luck
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Old 30-11-2021, 21:01   #4
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

I think I need to get an early consultation with a weather and routing service and plan a two/three week window to allow threading systems.

Iíd love to try inside the stream if itís not wind vs current. Would also need to feel comfortable with the plans to round the Cape. Iíd also want someone onboard who has deep experience navigating Atlantic coast major inlets and harbors.

Got some advice from someone whoís done the trip many times and is in the industry. He advises that itís really cold b/c the water gets colder over the winter and suggests using Bermuda as a stopping point. Iíve read arguments both for and against the Bermuda route.
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Old 01-12-2021, 07:00   #5
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

Can you even get a boat with a draft greater than 7' through the Devil's Backbone and into Harbour Island? There are innumerable great places to sail to in the Bahamas, but I wouldn't put Harbour Island near the top of that list.
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Old 01-12-2021, 07:39   #6
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

Lowcountry. HI was just a strawman. Liked the access from the east and know the island. Looking closely at the chart, itís questionable.
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Old 01-12-2021, 08:07   #7
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

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Can you even get a boat with a draft greater than 7' through the Devil's Backbone and into Harbour Island? There are innumerable great places to sail to in the Bahamas, but I wouldn't put Harbour Island near the top of that list.

Why would anyone with a 7 ft draft attempt the devil's backbone when there is a perfectly good channel at the south entrance. I haven't been there in a while, but recall that the yacht Highlander and several other mega-yachts were in there and they certainly didn't come through the devil's backbone and they definitely draw more than 7 ft.
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Old 01-12-2021, 09:15   #8
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

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Why would anyone with a 7 ft draft attempt the devil's backbone when there is a perfectly good channel at the south entrance. I haven't been there in a while, but recall that the yacht Highlander and several other mega-yachts were in there and they certainly didn't come through the devil's backbone and they definitely draw more than 7 ft.


I was looking at the south channel on Navionics. Looks like it gets sketchy once ur in the harbor.

If I decide to stop in Bermuda, then I may go to the USVI as an alternative.
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Old 01-12-2021, 10:06   #9
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

It can snow in April, despite global warming. Storms that bring snow will not be fun in the Gulf Stream, even if they turn to rain. May might be a better departure target.
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Old 01-12-2021, 10:22   #10
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

Hi All, CaptVR here:
Most of the advise you are getting here, the Capt's don't really have a clew, they never made the trip. You do not want to sail close to the East Coast at all, you would be bucking the Gulf Stream all the way, that will take 1.5 to 3.5 knots off your speed, depending on where your at.. You can pick up a counter current and give your vessel a boost of .5-2kts south. Keep your southerly heading right on down to Eleuthera, Bahamas. This route will give you a slight counter current most of the way.
If you don't have Pilots, and your planning on doing some open water sailing. Pick up some wind and ocean current pilots. Pick them up used for great prices at used sailboat parts and equipment chandlery's, even 5-10 years old will still be pretty accurate. These will give you predominate winds and sea currents for different times of the year. These will detail things like counter currents where most charts only indicate main currents. I used them for planning trips from a couple months to a year ahead of time. Just like most of the Skippers you just got advice from, most did not know about ocean counter currents that would give you a boost south, if you go a ways off shore.
Besides, why would you want to be sailing away from your destination. Traveling SSW away from your destination. When your port is S of where your leaving from and you would have none to favorable currents most of the way sailing off shore. Made the trip a number of times, close reach most always, one winter trip had to tack 3/4 of the way, I would keep tacks no more than 20 miles over our Rhumb Line, still were doing better than 5 knts towards Provo, T&C on the Rhumb Line. Vessel was a 60' staysail schooner.
Hope this gives you some insight on your coming trip...
PS: Don't go close to Devil's Backbone, really swift currents and a jagged reefs that has ripped open more bottoms than anywhere else in the Bahamas.
Also made the trip from the NE to South Florida a dozen times. Never any fun, inside or outside. Large sailboats with 6'+ draft a pain in the ass on the ICW.
Safe sailing all, Capt. Vince Rakstis Ret.MS St.Petersburg, Fl.
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Old 01-12-2021, 11:22   #11
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

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It can snow in April, despite global warming. Storms that bring snow will not be fun in the Gulf Stream, even if they turn to rain. May might be a better departure target.
Late April, early May. You might be right.

A lot to consider.
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Old 01-12-2021, 11:40   #12
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

April is pretty late in the year. By the time you really get to the Bahamas and start to get adjusted it will be hurricane season. A good time to get there might be February.
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Old 01-12-2021, 12:53   #13
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

off course, most of the "advisers given advice" will not be with you!
that is a drawback.
I plan to do it may be this January depending on the current Covirus status at The Bahamas and Florida, will see.
Considered making a run outside the gulf current, but definitively will limit my options if (and very possible) strong north wind (gale force) making the crossing of the GC impossible to duck into a protected harbor.
The Bermuda option also in my list but a second, IF the Covirus gets out of control or the weather does not break for a sail to Bahamas might be spending a long time in Bermuda? that may not be too bad, beats the cold.
That leaves me a coastal route from NC (my home port), coastal with relative safe inlets/harbors about 200 miles apart.
The argument of fighting the current seems ill-conceived, there is plenty of room between the coast and the edge of the current until close to Florida.
But then you have the issue of Cape Hatteras,I have experience and will not dare to recommend one way or other.
I will have a serious discussion with my router.
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Old 02-12-2021, 07:44   #14
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

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Originally Posted by Captain Bill View Post
Why would anyone with a 7 ft draft attempt the devil's backbone when there is a perfectly good channel at the south entrance. I haven't been there in a while, but recall that the yacht Highlander and several other mega-yachts were in there and they certainly didn't come through the devil's backbone and they definitely draw more than 7 ft.
Well, we all know that the shoals and channels in the Bahamas never shift (sarcasm). Show me where on the chart that a vessel with a draft greater than 7' can easily get behind Harbour Island, because I don't see it on either entrance.
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Old 02-12-2021, 08:28   #15
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Re: New England to Bahamas in April

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Well, we all know that the shoals and channels in the Bahamas never shift (sarcasm). Show me where on the chart that a vessel with a draft greater than 7' can easily get behind Harbour Island, because I don't see it on either entrance.

Anyone going to the Bahamas with a 7 ft draft is going to have to work the tides to move almost anywhere. High tide at Harbour Island can add three to 4 ft to the charted depths. I definitely wouldn't try the inlet at low tide, but at high tide he should not have much of a problem with the deep water route. It appears that there is one area where it's narrow and shoals to about 6ft at low water, but at least it's sand and not coral if he's off a little. High tide and good light are your friends in the Bahamas. On the other hand if you're off a little in the devil's backbone the coral will do more than ruin your day.
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