Charts: We originally bought the standard 22”x17” Maptech chartbook for the Bahamas. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s been in our chart drawer the whole time we’ve been down here. Why? Because you can’t beat the “Explorer Charts.” The majority of the cruisers down here use these great chartbooks. Their distinct 12”x17.5” size makes them noticeable. What makes them so great is the detail. The new fourth edition is in full color, with a fantastic one-minute grid that makes it super easy to plot your position off a GPS in seconds. Waypoints and magenta lines map out the safest routes. The fore-pages include all kinds of interesting info, and those areas of the islands that are actually inhabited have accompanying info right on the associated page. The data is specifically tailored to cruisers, with the kind of info we really want, such as where to get ice, water, etc.
Cruising Guides: We have several, but these are considered the “must haves”: “The Cruising Guide to Abaco” by Steve Dodge, and “The Exuma Guide” by Stephen J. Pavlidis. Also, if you don’t yet know “Skipper Bob,” it’s time to meet him! We’d never heard of his great guides until we actually started cruising. He and his wife publish guides to the ICW (one each for marinas and anchorages) and a guide for the Bahamas. All are updated annually. Like the Explorer Charts, they focus on cruisers, not go-fast boats looking for the best bars...
By the way, the Explorer Charts have tide tables in the back, but if you aren’t familiar with Reed’s Nautical Almanac, check it out... if only for the tide tables (not to mention the wealth of other good info all sailors should have). Can’t believe how many people call on VHF Channel 16 to ask what time low tide is...(including the captain of a mega-yacht anchored next to us one day)
Trash Disposal: Not a problem in the Abacos, as there are enough settlements here and there where you can find a dumpster. No charge anywhere we went. The Exumas were a little different. There’s not a trash can to be found in all of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. Those islands that have marinas have garbage drop-off points, but you have to pay to get rid of your bags! Staniel Cay Yacht Club charges $2.50 for a small bag, and $5.00 for a large bag. As you can see, it’s more economical to cram 3-4 13-gallon white bags into one big green sack! In between times, the dinghy is a good place to keep your bags.
Laundry: Now that we’re no longer bundled up in fleece and long pants, our dirty clothes have diminished greatly! In the Abacos, it’s easy enough to find laundromats or laundry machines in marinas. The cost is something else again. The machines don’t take quarters... they take tokens, the average price of which is $3.50 each! So, one token to wash, and often two tokens to dry! Ouch! That’s one load! Luckily, once you get to the Exumas, you’ll be in bathing suits or shorts and t-shirts. That’s it. Take your shirt and undies in the shower with you, then hang it out to dry. Towels and sheets, well, that’s another story. Some of the cays have marinas with laundry facilities. Otherwise, you can pay to have someone do it, like they do on Staniel Cay. But if it’s raining, don’t expect to get it back the next day. Why? Because they have to hang it out to dry, of course!
Water: We weighed the pros and cons of installing a watermaker and decided against it the first season. (Expensive, takes up valuable space, and requires a lot of maintenance). We figured we could buy a lot of water for the $4000 a watermaker would cost. In the Abacos, we could fill up our tanks in Marsh Harbour for a flat $5, but the water wasn’t too tasty. In the Exumas, we get good water, but it costs about 40 cents a gallon. Then, after more stewing about it, we took the plunge and got a watermaker anyway (PUR 160E). We got tired of worrying about running out and worrying about the quality of the local water. So, it ended up being a quality of life decision vs. a financial one.
Fuel: Not a problem. Unlike our trip to Canada where we were on the go almost every day and doing a lot of motoring, we’re using very little fuel here. Distances are relatively short, and we’re able to sail a lot. While marinas may not be plentiful, they are around, and the fuel is clean, albeit expensive.
Provisions: Everyone talked about the high prices here, but it was still a shock. We came over with our freezer packed to the gills and our cabinets near to overflowing. But you can only go so long without running out of perishables like fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread. Here are some sample prices (higher in the Exumas than the Abacos): Milk - $9 gallon; Bread - $4 loaf; Bananas - $1.50 pound; Tomatoes - $1.25 each. Ouch!!!) We’ve discovered that non-fat dry milk has improved over the years and is completely palatable. Bring boxes of it!... If you don’t already bake your own bread, get a good book, bring lots of flour and yeast, and have a go at it. Not only is it fun, but it may be your only chance to enjoy anything other than “Wonderbread.”
We’ve been very surprised at the lack of groceries in the Exumas. The guidebooks say “groceries are available” on such-and-such an island. Well, don’t expect anything larger than a very small camp store! Even on Staniel Cay, an inhabited island with an air strip, the only produce available was lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cabbage and carrots. Fruit was bananas, pears, apples, and oranges. That’s it, folks!
Fishing: We’ve been doing plenty of fishing, but very little catching, other than barracuda (which you don’t want to eat, as many carry the ciguatera toxin). Ty had to up-size almost all his gear -- higher test line, bigger lures, stronger leaders, etc. Those in the know say the mahi mahi will be out in force in April, so hopefully it’s all just a matter of timing! Meanwhile, if you like seafood, plan on filling your freezer before you come to the Bahamas (as incredible as that seems). We were so sure that seafood would be plentiful here that we filled our freezer with meat, pork, and chicken. How we wish we’d at least brought more frozen shrimp! What a surprise to find that stores throughout the Abacos and Exumas sell NO fish, not even in the freezer section. Most restaurants offer only grouper as their “catch of the day,” and several times when we ordered it, they said, “Sorry, no fish today!”
Social Life: You can party every night here if you want to! After feeling isolated from other cruisers while in Newfoundland, the Bahamas are eye-opening! Beach bars like those in the British Virgin Islands are few and far between in the Exumas. But that doesn’t stop cruisers from having a good time! Invite the couple from the boat next to you over for sundowners, and the next thing you know, the invitation is being reciprocated. Before you know it, your circle of friends is expanding... At one anchorage, someone put out a general announcement on the VHF for all interested parties to meet on the beach at 5 pm for drinks. The dinghies were lined up like a parking lot! For the most part, if you’re invited to another boat, you bring your own drinks and snacks. It’s understood. A given. Why? Because we all have a limited supply of drinks, mixers, and food down here. We have limited water, too, so people bring their own glasses and serving bowls, then wash them back on their own boats! We hosted a party for 10 one night on “Liberty,” and all we provided was the cockpit!
Essentials (over and above the standard cruising spares, gear, etc):
- Teva-like sandals. Many of the small islands are completely uninhabited, but they do have trails or gorgeous beaches to explore. Tevas are great for hopping into the water to drag your dinghy up on the beach, then they’re perfect for hiking.
- A good dinghy anchor. We have a 3-pound Danforth with 6’ of chain and 100’ of 3/8” nylon rode that stays in the dinghy all the time. It digs in great when we beach the dinghy, but also holds great when we want to go snorkeling in open water.
- A hand-held VHF. We have two! We don’t go out in the dinghy without one in a zip-lock bag. Yes, the dink has oars if the engine ever dies, but there are some strong currents in some of the cuts that could carry a small boat out to sea faster than a person could row.
- Snubber for your anchor chain. 99% of those who anchor with all chain (and most do) put a snubber from the chain to a cleat on deck. Saves strain on the windlass.
- Disposable Underwater Camera. Don’t know what they cost back in the States, but it has to be less than the $19 we paid down here after not having the forethought to bring a few.
- Oversized ziploc bags. Most cruisers know the value of ziploc bags, but did you know they make great big ones? Hefty makes one that’s 14”x16” that’s perfect for carrying things in the dinghy for those rides ashore on extra lumpy days. Of course, a dry-bag would be a good alternative, but having a whole box of those giant ziplocs has served us very well.