We had an excellent passage to the Bahamas from St. Thomas (US Virgin Isles). It was about 530 nautical miles and we completed it in 2.75 days for an average of just under 200 nm/day. It was downwind conditions the whole way and we flew the spinnaker or mainsail in downwind configuration the whole way.
One problem we ran into was jibing our spinnaker (changing it from a port tack to a starboard tack due to a change in wind angle). In the process of chuting the spinnaker in high winds, we went too far over and the sheet go wrapped around the sail causing a small 10″ rip. After getting the sail down, we found the rip and taped it with rip-stop tape. The tape only partially held the hole tight though so we will have to repair it properly later with some sewing.
Our weather was really good with no rain or squalls, and only one 20 minute period where our when got shifty on us. We had steady easterly winds between 15 knots or higher the entire trip with only slight variances.
Upon arriving on Thursday morning at Mathew Town, Great Inagua, we noticed a Royal Bahamas Defence Force (their equivalent of the coast guard) cutter was at anchor. After getting permission to anchor in the area near the airport, we anchored and put away our sails. Then we started preparing to take showers so we could go ashore to do formalities. As I was getting ready to take a shower, I noticed a boarding party on one of two other sailboats in the anchorage. I started my shower, but before I finished I heard a boat outside and felt its wake at it circled Tahina.
I grabbed a towel and came out – Karen also came out to investigate – and found a boatload of defence force personnel waiting behind our boat. They apologized for interrupting my shower and requested permission to board our boat for an inspection. They wanted to check our paperwork (which I pointed out since we just arrived we had none – and they said they understood that and it was no problem), and then they wanted to just look around the boat. Only two personnel came on board and they were very professional and friendly after waiting for me to dress. First they filled out a “boarding form” with our boat details and had me sign the form indicating my authorization. Then one of them walked around with my supervision and opened a variety of random cabinets and storage areas in each cabin and companion way. After a few minutes, they were done and congratulated us on our circumnavigation. They gave us a copy of the form for our records. It wasn’t too bad and we were soon finishing up our cleaning process. Our speculation is that they were looking for problems such as missing paperwork, stow-aways/un-papered passengers, signs we might be carrying contraband (drugs or merchandise for sale), or illegal fishing maybe.
Later we went ashore and found the customs and immigration. The officials were very friendly and soon had our paper work done. Unfortunately, the Bahamas has one of the most expensive fees for entering and getting a cruising permit and fishing permit in the world. It cost $300 for permits which supposedly gives you up to a year, but once you leave you can only come back once and only if you do that within 90 days of departing. So, if you leave for hurricane season, you have to pay the same fees over again when you come back.
A few other interesting points: 1) we were able to get a SIM card for our phones so we have cell phone and 3G service. It cost $30 for 2GB data and you can buy more when you run out. The SIM card cost $10, and we put $10 of voice minutes on the phone. 2) they had a bunch of rain recently and the mosquitoes are vicious – even in broad daylight! We had to keep the boat screened up day and night. 3) Finally, no signs of sargasso seaweed which has plagued the seas throughout the Caribbean (and the whole northern equatorial Atlantic from what we’ve heard). So, we can do some fishing again. Yay!
The three Canadian kids boats who were going to follow us a day behind did leave. But, apparently they decided to stick with their original plan of taking the northern route through the Bahamas. After they had heard our recommendation for going the southern route, and requested routing details, we had assumed that meant they were going to follow us. We were disappointed they weren’t going to join us in what is reportedly the best snorkeling and fishing areas in the Bahamas – south of the Exumas in the Raggeds. So, we may be exploring those waters alone when we sail for there today. It’s another overnight passage as the Bahamas are a big area with lots of miles between islands. We would have stayed here another day, but the mosquitoes are vicious!
We still hope to meet up with the Canadian boats in the Abacos when we head that way later. But, that will be a week or two away. We will probably be without phone/Internet communications for several days while we explore the Raggeds. We will be able to send out text postings via radio or satellite phone.