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The Bahama Shallows

Everything you read on line about sailing in the Bahamas is; – don’t bring a 8ft draft boat to sail in the Bahamas. Needing to visit Nassau to try and get a proper visa for the USA it made perfect sense to give it a go and after some very careful research we set forth from Cuba on the 150 mile crossing to Clarence Town on Long Island.

So how was it with a 8ft draft? – umm you have to use the tides and be very vigilant, watch the depth sounder like a hawk and read the water constantly which didn’t make for relaxing sailing, but once anchored it is fabulous.

There are some beautiful places to go and it is a place I would come back to (even in SAORSA). For contrast we hired a catamaran with a 4.5ft draft for a few days when my friends Kate and Will came out from the Uk to visit. A Cat is great fun in these waters – it was relaxing and fun – sneaking into the shallowest of anchorages and parking just meters off the beaches.

The trip from Cuba to land fall in the south of the Bahamas was less fun. After spending two weeks backpacking in Cuba, the combination of a short chop and upwind sailing left me feeling decidedly sea sick. Brent and Emma did well but we all classed it as a horrible 24 hours. Fortunately as soon as we got to Clarencetown everything changed.

We entered the Clarencetown Bay and were greeted by beautiful turquoise flat water – it was stunning. Clarence “town”, is a not a town but a village of less than six house with marina that couldn’t fit us in. It did however have a good anchorage and a fabulous bakery where the cinnamon rolls are to die for and the one restaurant – “Rowdy Boys” served a well needed stomach stabilising beefburger.

The next few days we cruised north anchoring in turquoise waters with pristine beaches to ourselves enjoying fat seas and good winds. It was 365 miles of lovely sailing. In Georgetown after we cleared customs Brent jumped into the crystal clear water and popped up in disbelief – we were on the bottom!. Fortunately the tide comes up and off we float but a warning just how shallow it gets and how not to trust electronic charts. Our 8ft draft was restrictive and it certainly limited our choice of anchorage but things became a lot more predictable when we got a full set of Explorere charts, which are renowned for their accuracy compared with the Navionics electronics we had on board, – there were some interesting discrepancies. Once armed with these charts and a good pair of sun glasses, to help spot the shallow spots and reefs, life became a wee bit more comfortable.

Crossing the shallow bits with less than a meter under the keel at times Brent and Emma were on constant lookout.

We entered Palm Cay with 0.2m under the keel at one hour past high water, once down the dredged entrance channel it was like entering a sailors paradise. The marina and the Navtours staff ( who we had rented the Catermeran from), could not have been more helpful.

They helped us berth, get transport sorted, imparted some great local knowledge on where to sail, and it had its own beach and pool – heaven.

It was so good to see Kate and Will who arrived in from the UK the day aftere we berthed. With one day to recover by the pool we then all decamped from SAORSA and boarded “Lady Gaby”, a 40ft Lagoon Catamaran for six days. We certainly made the most of the shallow keel and armed with some great advice from Justine (our Navtours guide), we snuck up into anchorages I would have previously never dared to take any boat.

Approaching Allans Cay beach the Iguanas swarmed to meet us:– a bit unnerving

but an experience not to be forgotten and certainly a beach that didn’t make for a relaxing sunbath, but was great to swim from.

We anchored just off Pig Bay, and, true to its name there were pigs on the beach!. We dinghied across Mangrove swamps to beautiful beaches, swam in turquoise coloured caves, ate tremendously well and enjoyed the pristine beaches and regular swimming to cool down. That was until Emma had just got out and discovered this fella.

(Apparently a Nurse shark and not dangerous). The Cat was a great way to see the Exumas – in a shallow draft with family and great friends.

After a few relaxing days back at Palm Cay, Will and Kates departure was followed by Emma and Brent☹. After five months for Emma, and four months for Brent ( longer than either of us had envisaged), it was time for my trusted crew to continue their journey ashore and get back to work. I cannot thank them enough for been great friends, fun and fabulous crew.

For Emma a 3000 mile ocean passage, a tremendous accomplishment for anyone and she did it with a smile on her face and with real spunk. For both of them another 2300 miles of Caribbean Islands, varied seas, wind and weather, paradise anchorages to lumpy hell holes. It was an amazing experience of cultures, scenery, swimming, snorkelling, reading, good films, eating, drinking and sunsets. It was so rewarding to see them grow as sailors becoming competent, proactive and knowledgeable seafarers who I would trust to take SAORSA out any day. The best bit was sharing what I love doing with such lovely people and seeing them enjoying it too – Iam so grateful and proud them both. THANK YOU.