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Exumas 2000 - A Journey to the Bahamas

by Bruce McElya

Worked all winter fiddling with the boat and dinghy, and now it is time to cruise. Arrive Miami Feb. 17. Launch, rig, and motor around to North Bay Landing Marina. Good place, and the right price. Pack food. Buddy up with an Island Packet 31 for Gulf Stream crossing. We boat down to Angelfish Cut, 30 miles south near Key Largo. This gives us a nice cheat against the strong north current, and a well marked and easy route across the reef. We are both single handed and look forward to the company.

The Gulf Stream. It is a river upon the ocean, three times the speed of the Mississippi, one and a half times its length, and 500 times its volume. It is an incredible, and somewhat inhospitable place for small craft. It's magnificence is eclipsed only by it's occaisional treachery. An active volcano is a neat place too, but you can't spend much time in it.

We head out at 6 am into a 10kt east wind. Peter chickens out 10 miles later. He doesn't want to go unless he can put up some sail. Sheesh. We go back. Two days later, we go again, this time with a light westerly. Fine. 15 miles out wind clocks straight north at 15-20. Seas quickly build and now we are struggling with 5-7 foot seas. I convince him to keep on, and we arrive Cat Cay at 3:30 pm. Another real rough crossing. Physically drained but no damage, which surprises me.

Clear customs at Cat Cay. A rip-off I will not repeat. Marina there charges $50 for the privilege of going in to clear. Then it's another $100 for the customs agent. Will clear in at Bimini next time, or maybe Chub Cay.

Next day we strike out on longest passage in the Caribbean, 89 miles across the Great Bahama Banks to Chub Cay. West wind came back and that helps. Partner didn't want to sail thru the night with that nice tail wind, so we anchored out half way. Choppy, no sleep. If I'm not going to sleep, might as well sail. Oh well. We make Chub the next day. Layover, rest, apply letters to tender. Next day I depart with new company, Ulle and Michelin, a couple of fine Canadian sailors. We arrive Nassau, 35 miles and seven hours later. Easy day, but burned a bit of fuel. At $3.00/ gal. it adds up.

Leave Nassau a couple days later in high winds, heading for Exumas. Another real rough ride. Should have waited a day. My stock trading seems to go that way. Timing is everything. Yellow Banks is a boat wrecker. A sharp lookout is required. Arrive Allens Cay 37 miles and eight hours later, utterly worn out. A good anchorage though. I duck into a sandy flat, out of the wind and surge. I watch all the other masts drawing large arcs in the sky while mine remains still.

Allens Cay a popular spot. Here and nearby Leaf Cay are home to hundreds, nay thousands of big iguanas. It's quite a show. I try for a few pics. Went out next day and easily caught a houndfish and a big fat Nassau grouper. Houndfish will jump 10 feet into the air several times before you can get it in, and its bones are translucent green. Weird, but good eating. Ulle and Michelin cruise in from Nassau, and we chow down aboard their boat (they have a refrigerator).

Onward ho we go to Highborn Cay, only five miles away, gas up and leave the next day for Norman Cay, formerly owned by the infamous, but now terminally jailed Colombian coke dealer, Carlos Lehder. Buildings ashore riddled with machine gun fire from the DEA assault some 10 or so years ago. Wrecked DC3 still sits in shallow water near the usual anchorage. Smuggling, it's not just a job, it's an adventure! I peel off from anchorage and go to Norman's Pond, hurricane hole for a hundred boats if it were needed. Shallow at entrance keeps most out except a trimaran. Nice quiet place. Hammerheads swimming below. Big ones too. Osprey nesting all around, good shelling, nice place to be, given the snotty weather.

Set out for Shroud Cay 3 days later, only five miles away. Winds 20-25. Broke a rudder pivot bolt and had to return to Normans for repair. Ulle had a BFH and so I was able to get the frozen bolt loose and replace. Make Shroud Cay next day to a place called Hurricane Hole Harbor. Beautiful, only room for one boat in here, mine. In the Exumas Land and Sea Park now, so no fish, lobster, or conch. There is a series of native creeks that run all thru this cay, and that is the beauty of it. Also, it is nesting ground for the rare Tropic Bird. Strange and beautiful, they are sleek and white with jet black wing tips. They seem to spend most of their day performing intricate aerobatic manuevers. At just the right angle of sun and water, their snow white underside picks up the aquamarine of water from below. A dazzling display of color. Big Coast Guard and DEA helos fly over fairly regular. I smile for the cameras.

My boat dries in soft sand at low water here. As it unsettles from sand at flood, the bottom gets scrubbed clean. Doesn't seem to remove any gelcoat, just marine growth. What a happy accident. Since I don't want bottom paint, this is a good routine once a month. One problem is that ballast will slowly leak out when vessel dries. Something else to watch over, lest I sail with only partial ballast.

I spot two wild dogs at southern end of Shroud Cay. We size each other up. Looking into their cagey eyes, I get the sober feeling they might take a child down, given the right situation. I keep them on radar. They race across the tidal flats in 3' of water. Quite a show. After awhile they disappear. Southern Shroud is as wild as it gets. Be there on a rising tide or be stranded. Next day, I dinghy up north of Shroud, just out of the park and get some lobster and conch. Man, good eating.

Minor observation: Single-handing is resplendent with additional reward and challenge beyond having crew. One great advantage is that of swearing, snoring, and napping with impunity.

Next stop, Warderick Wells hard to windward. 12 miles, 12 hours. The old girl just won't point with all this weight. Should be waiting for more favorable winds, low on fuel again. Warderick is the park headquarters, and good snorkeling is all around, plus the ever exciting blow-holes on the windward side.

Leave Warderick Wells with a decent wind. 12 knots maybe, on a close reach. 135 genny muscles us to Staniel Cay at 5 knots or so, 16 miles by noon. I'm happy. First good day of sailing in a month. Arrive Staniel Cay and anchor close to town. Here is the home of the famous Thunderball Cave, as seen in movie of the same name. Interesting, but not compelling. Coral around small islands much better scene. Big blow, 25-35 kts. There is no protection from surge anywhere around here. Homemade flopper stopper at its limit. Finally found block ice. Good quality too. Much conch to eat, and the shells are striking. I gather many of them before returning to states.

I am quickly learning that if the guide books suggest an anchorage, there will surely be jet skis, wind generators, stinky noisy gensets, overcrowding, and no fish or conch. I take my shallow draft sailboat and wiggle into nice quiet places those others can only dream about. My my, we should write an Exuma guide for boats like this.

Anyway, had to get off the hook single-handed in 35 kts near a lee shore. Ran rode back to winch. Ran motor forward a bit to relieve pressure. Pulled rode thru winch by hand (I have anchor rollers). Run to foredeck, pile up chain in locker, let anchor dangle, run back to helm and zoom away. Sheesh, I hate doing that. Could pull chain all the way up to winch, but would scratch gelcoat. Motor over to lee of Big Majors and watch in my binoculars the mega-yacts rolling hard in the marina. Glad to get away from that scene.

Standing rig humming for third day in a row. I go into town and watch locals rebuilding 'Lady Muriel' for upcoming the Family Island Regatta down in Georgetown. A classic Bahamian wooden smack, she is a two time winner. It's getting late so I dive for dinner. I scoop up some conch and spear a mutton snapper for dinner. Big lemon shark circles boat, rather too late to steal my fish. That's the game.

Wind still rips. Unsafe for a try at Pipe Creek area. Wow! Two lobster at reef near boat. I snag them. Season only lasts a couple more weeks. I miss Shawna. We look at the full moon, pretending it is a mirror, seeing each others smiles and tears so clearly. According to gps, Jakarta is 9704 nautical miles, bearing 355. Not so far as it used to be.

The seas' distemper gives way to fair winds and I am off to my next destination. Pipe Creek, pearl of the Atlantic. Snag another mutton snapper, trolling this time, using an old bass lure. I drop a hook in the azure clear protected waters of Pipe Creek and clean my fish. Man, this place is utterly gorgeous. Dinghy launched, and a cursory cruise of the area. Words for it? A kaleidoscope of pristine island beauty. Best I can do. Get to this place if you can.

Fish on the grill, fresh fruit, cheese, calavo olives, rum & guava, and Cadbury chocolate for desert. There is a great sunset accompanied by the distant conch horn symphony. I contribute my note, held as long as possible. Shortly, I find solace from the journey. 'Twas an excellent day.

Observation: Most of the good-to-mediocre harbors in the world are either privately owned, filthy, crowded, or off limits. Increasingly, I appreciate a 12" draft, allowing me snug, quiet, out-of-the-way places to sleep. I pay tribute to the harbor lords only when I want to.

Visit caves at Rocky Dundas. A long but pleasant dinghy ride. Meet another couple at mooring ball there. We snork and see giant lobster, hawksbill turtle and pretty good caves. Stop in at abandoned US Navy Decca station. Usual abandoned military looking kind of place. Found a few nice shells. Great view of Pipe Creek area from high up. Back to boat, a few chores, then off fishing. Small snapper, cuda, and marbled grouper. I release them if they don't say 'excellent eating' in my fish book. Boy, am I getting picky. Let them all go today. Easy weather brought a new wave of boats to area. They all congregate in the same place, far from me, hehe, good. I'm really not asocial, but I enjoy lounging around nude and don't want to hang a bunch of extraneous privacy canvas.

Catching fish - a snapshot. Those big spart-fishing boats you see are efficient killing machines, and ghastly expensive. A much greater challenge, I think, is to provide for the table from a sailing venue. Two ways to do it: From the dinghy or from the mother-ship, each with obviously different considerations. Under sail only, I heave-to with fish and line leeward, and pull dinghy in tight against boat, preferably other side from the fight. If fish is big, I gaff it and either let it go over side or bring it aboard. It's a pretty tough deal to get your lure back from the mouth of a 30 lb. cuda without getting hurt. Think first about how you will do this. After bringing the fish aboard, I soak two rags in isopropyl or stove alcohol, and stuff them into the gills on each side. The fish dies quickly and peacefully. I never could get into that bloody head-bashing routine. However, remind me never to get alcohol near my gills. From the dinghy, I'll give a wild case scenario. Today I hooked a fish while in the very swift current of a cut, which is a good but treacherous place to fish. Fish pretty big, and dinghy spinning wildly out of control. Must keep line away from prop, must keep dinghy away from razor sharp coral, must keep razor sharp fish and hooks away from rubber. Much to do, so little time. Preservation of the dinghy the ultimate priority. Cut the line if necessary. What I caught was the biggest mutton snapper I've yet seen. I thank the goddess of the ocean and vow to eat every bit of this delectable catch. That's fishin'.

I would like to enjoy the potentially tranquil beauty of Pipe Creek, but the wind is strong, and I do little more then fish from the dinghy and read. Blowing sand ashore dampens my desire to sit under the umbrella. I'm getting weary of these high winds. Wrong direction to sail in too, so I sit tight.

Ahh, a little less wind today. Fine. I fire up the dinghy and charge off. Snork a few reefs, explore some tidal flats. One flat very peculiar. Shore littered with young dead queen conch shells. It looked like a kind of mass suicide. I pick up a few for the wife. Back to the mothership. Freshwater solar shower, cold beer. grilled fish, and music. One like today easily makes up for three of the windy ones. Paradise.

There is a clever group of clergy cruising these waters. They have names like 'Island Religion, Odyssy, Blessings, Golden Rule, Divine Mission, Genesis, and Gratitude.' In return for ministering to the 'pagan' islanders, they get to write off the expense of those big expensive trawlers they cruise the Caribbean with. They drink, they party, and all the while avoiding taxes of any kind. A bunch of latter-day pirates if you ask me. Religious bowery toughs if you ask me (they don't).

Five huge military helos, bristling with arms, fly by in formation this morning. More of my tax dollars at work, but at what? Did we pick a fight with someone? Oh yes, the drug war, or the 70 years war, or whatever they call it these days. It is the sound of freedom (institutionalized repression) by golly! Between unending wars, men-of-god, and cotton-in-aspirin bottles, there's a number of hands in my pocket, and they never even say 'thank you.' I demand to be thanked after I'm screwed! Herein lies one of the pitfalls of single handed sailing. One is left unchecked against strange ruminations. If the wind would just quit howling, I wouldn't have time for this transcendental thought.

And the wind rips again, 25-30 and clocks from the S to NE. I move to a tight cove and set three anchors. Wind here, but no waves. Great. The others out there in the bay will rock hard tonight. Radio chatter indicates trouble, but too dangerous for them to re-set, so most are sitting still, at least until morning high tide. I am fine, but others are on the edge, facing a lee shore, chains taught. There will be all night watches. I would.

8:30 pm - Tide is out, wind pushing 35 kts steady and Lochan Ora has gently settled into soft sand, level and solid. Dinner fine, rum effective. Easy sleep aboard my grounded ship.

Blows three days more, then settles and I travel to Cambridge Cay. The strongest cold front yet. Boat fine, skipper tired of the drone. Four straight days 25 kts and occasional driving rain. I'm running out of reading material. Snottiest spring weather most locals can remember. They blame it on 'La Nina.' Hehe, well I'm heading home. At this rate of frontal passage, it's going to take a long time to get there. Destination Bimini, 170 miles and three major passages, and then looms the Gulf Stream....... Today's gulfstream report, wind north 35-45, seas 14-18 feet. Pleased not to be there.

Awoke at 5 am, all orifices agitated. Ate tainted wieners from the 'blue store' on Staniel Cay. Proprietor's demeanor was tourist courtesy, far from genuine hospitality. I didn't trust her. My fault for not feeding it to the neighbor's dog first. Had this happened on a difficult passage, it would have become dangerous to untenable. Anyway, didn't eat much today.

Got the full dinghy search by the park rangers from Exumas Land And Sea Park this morning. Guess I look suspicious. I suppose they were looking for illegal lobster or fish, but who knows, I'm clean. Mostly beachcombing and snorkeling here. Best coral formations I've ever seen, but I haven't been to Bonaire yet.

Sunset, great color in the sky, wind thru the casuarina trees, and calm sounds from a distant surf. Fruit for dinner. A couple of us play conch-horn to each other here in the anchorage. Wind slows a bit and the sea lays down. Except for the morning food poisoning, it came together nicely today. My fingers crossed for fair winds tomorrow. I would like to move along. Bon Soir!

Fair winds indeed. Dead downwind, wing-and-wing for 20 easy miles. Swell not moving with wind, so steering a little tricky. Dinghy surfed a wave and slammed into stern. No damage, just startling. Only happened once. I wind my way under sail thru narrow cuts and end up softly grounded (rudders). No stress, so I take time to look around and decide about where to anchor. Drop main, pull up rudders, anchor, and that's that. This place has no name and is not mentioned in the guide. Therefore, it would seem a pretty good place. The bird life, fish life, coral, and scenery here are exquisite, and no beach trash. No other vessels either. This could be the pinnacle of my journey thru Exumas.

First I dinghy to M/V Heavenly Father, wrecked on the barrier reef. An old Bahamian transport rust bucket, it may have been wrecked there with forethought. I board her and look around. Bunks for six people and a high fly-bridge, all glassed in. She's about 80' and would have carried a lot of cargo.

Strange tropical birds on these islands. Interesting features and unfamiliar songs. I find a monstrous chain which formerly stretched 150' or so between small islands. A hurricane chain is my guess. Links must have been about 10 pounds apiece. Weathered down to almost nothing now. Fabulous beaches, cool scenes everywhere, but it's getting dark and I better go on home. Wind die, bugs come en force, and I'm ready. Ready for Freddie and the Fishsticks, and a little Beethoven's Ninth. My new Sogeman bugs screens work to perfection, allowing peaceful music appreciation.

A new day. Big front due in tonight. Of course it gets here early, 10am. Nervous ride in the dinghy, trying to get to lee of Hawksbill. Lots of radio chatter. More boats in trouble, caught out in high seas. 35 kts wind, gusts higher, waves 6-9 feet. In fairness to the deep hull bluewaters, they don't even wake up until 20 kts, but for most who gunkhole the Exumas, beyond 20 kts and it's time to hide. It is low tide right now and Lochan Ora is resting comfortably on her bilges in soft sand. She moves only a fraction when big gusts hit the beam. Ice gone, back to cans. Okay with me. I'm tired of the tyranny of cold food. Oh Lordy, a huge lobster comes to boat begging for scraps. I put on gloves and pick it up. They really are beautiful creatures. I put it back, since it is out-of-season, and it is also illegal to take anything in the National Park. It hangs around, so I feed it some scraps. What a character. Since they are not hunted, most animals in the park are tame. Big mega-yacht around corner in anchorage. Looks about 4 million worth and it's just rolling around like a log from the surge. I bet owner has roll stabilizers installed next season. They off-load a squadron of jet skis and buzz the neighborhood. Real pleasant. I string the decapitation wire and hope they come again.

Wind howls, it's cold, and I'm going to bed. Well, maybe a warm beer first. Get up this morning, move boat around corner as wind clocks another 90 degrees. And it continues to rip. 'Nobody move, nobody gets hurt!' Herb, the ssb weather angel, calls for 25-35 kts for 5 more days. And me without a new jigsaw puzzle...... No maydays today, happily. Most everyone wisely sittin' still. I walk a few beaches and take a nap. Can of beans and luke warm beer again with dinner. Unsatisfying but calorically adequate. Now what. BBC World News I guess, or Radio Habana. They play good music, entangled with humorous propaganda.

Hook up with a couple live-aboards, Bob and Ann from Oklahoma. I learn some excellent fishing technique from Bob. They feed me a couple dinners. We are on the same schedule to Nassau. I load the boat with a few more conch shells. A great 14 mile sail on a broad reach to Normans Cay. Genoa full out in 20 kts. A little much, but swift on the water. main reefed, a good combination. Next day, we make for Nassau. 20 kts on a downwind at 4-6 seas. Broke rudder brackets en route. Piece of junk Macgregor steering system has failed me again. Just not good enough for the ocean.

I check into a marina for repairs. Nassau, what a place, anything goes. A sort of controlled anarchy. There is a guard at most businesses, and the sound of occaisional gunfire at night. Body of young man drifts thru harbor this morning. Jumped off the bridge, running from the cops, he didn't make it. And then there is the Atlantis resort, exotic decadence, whose only redeeming feature is the Chihoully glass sculptures within.

Bill at MacGregor works on getting me parts. End up welding it back together locally. Onward finally to Chub Cay, easy motor-sail. heading home now. Bitter-sweet, but it's time and just when the water is getting warm. Next trip: April, May, June. Better weather toward summer I would hope.

Another big front coming, number 12 since I left. I hold up at Chub Cay and wait. Today is good Friday, and it was. Front comes in late. 30 kts, and hard rain. I hear my Krogen trawler friends on the radio and dinghy in to marina to greet them. Wisely, they have just begun their journey. Move boat around to channel between cays. Current swift, but no surge. Drat! An outboard motor cable breaks. More jury rig. I am weary of repairs on the fly. Waiting impatiently for proper wind. Here it comes, 20 kts, SW. Not great, and barely sailable, given my rhumb line. Into the maw, 80 miles to go. Delirium sets in about 2 am. I catch myself talking to the numbers on the compass. I anchor in 4 foot waves on the banks. Damn! No good. Rudder brackets break again. Can only motor to steer. Wind 25 kts and gusting higher. Reef main, pull anchor and press on. Sunrise and no land in sight. Depressing. 22 miles to go. Bimini in sight. I pull into protected bay on backside. Oh man, that was the worst 20 hours I've ever had on water.

I met some nice folks the next day and we sail around the corner into Bimini harbor, an old haunt of E. Hemmingway. I anchor far from the others and well away from the town's generator. I am painfully tired and try to rest. Repair parts on the way via Chalks Airlines. I miss my wife. Parts didn't come for some reason. Weather window closes on a gulf stream crossing, as another front barrels in. Looks like a week or more before the next chance. Guess I'll savor this gin-clear water awhile longer.

Parts arrive and are installed. The front stalls and wind blows wrong way for two straight weeks. Anchorage full of boats that can't move. Those broken rudder brackets cost me a lot of time and money. I credit Bill S. at MacGregor for getting me spares to a foreign port. Should be at home in my own bed by now.....

Caught a cold and went to a lee beach to suffer awhile. Turns out to be a nude beach so I follow suit. A couple comes by and wakes me up to chat. I gawk in amazement at the female. Described as a perfect specimen would be an understatement. Thought I was dreaming. Her partner, and older rich guy, was a scene I had seen before. They invited me to the 'party' that evening aboard their luxury Lauderdale mega-yacht. An 80', ocean going, I-talien designed love-boat. Aboard, I met the other five couples. Same deal, exotic young women and wealthy older men. Actually, the group owns three comparable yachts. One is based in Florida, one in the Med, and one in Tahiti. They cruise the world with their interchangeable young wives/models/debutantes. The party goes on for three more days there in Bimini. The teenage sons of the sport-fisher dads crowd our finger dock, hoping for a quick glance thru the curtains. It is a titillating story of its own, which I will leave for another time. Hugh Hefner would blush. I remain faithful.

Weather starting to look up, so I pull up stakes and pleasantly sail down to Gun Cay and into Honeymoon Harbor. Ah, nice place. Just as I'm ready to set second anchor, a sport-fish boat barrels in right next to me, throws out a lunch hook, and leaves the vessel. If I moor and he swings, I'll get creamed. These sport-fish captains are inconsiderate, inept jerks (there are exceptions of course). The lowest form of boatman I've yet seen on the water. His vessel is named: 'Master Baiter.' Typical.

I run into a nice couple and their two daughters on the beach. Husband says Samana Cay is the place to go, and gives me some pointers. He rightly points out that I won't be going anywhere in this weather, and invites me to go 'shark roping' with him and his wife. Okay, what the hell, it's the last few days of a great adventure, I'll go for it?

We drop off the daughters and fish for margates until we have about ten or so. Aboard their dinghy, a 17' whaler, we grind the fish into chum and head out into the Gulf Stream. In about 15 minutes the water is getting crowded with shark of all kinds. He pulls in closer to the one he wants, a 12' tiger, probably 400 lbs. He then puts out a standard cowboy issue lasso, and chums the tiger into the loop. He pulls it tight and the fish takes off like lightning. When it gets to the end, tied to the bow cleat, we are off on a Bahamian shark sleighride! We are now hauling ass in every direction. The thrill ride goes on for about ten more minutes, then the boat stops. Shark doubles back and attacks the boat (us). It grabs the prop and thrashes the stern back and forth smartly. I was not ready and almost fell in. It goes to the end of the rode, figures it is still roped and charges again, at the beam this time. Boat rocks hard, and it comes again. We are beam to the waves and gunnel falls low to its next charge. Fish comes aboard and starts whipping its head back and forth trying to get ahold of someone. The husband grabs a pole spear and tags it in the nose. Now we are getting thrashed by a 6' fiberglass pole. Shark falls back into the water with pole stuck in its nose, but not before we take on hundreds of gallons of water. It swims a small distance away, then comes back and rams us from his port side, not head-on cuz its nose hurts. We finally get the lasso off and start moving away. We are struck twice more before the almost swamped Whaler gets up enough speed to escape. Oh brother, I will never forget those intense black eyes, and its huge gaping gullet full of razors. It was big enough to cut one of us right in half, easy. Pissing off a tiger shark is unwise. I will never do that again.

Next day, the wind clocks SE at 15 kts., seas 3-5. Not great, but I take the window. Off at 7 am, dinghy in tow. I motor out and run into huge waves as incoming tide roils up onto the Great Bahama Bank against the wind. I was not expecting that, but kept going and it settled down about three miles out. I set the main and unroll the genny. Under the press of sail, my ship and I make way on the cobalt blue sea, bound for the good old USA.

Aye, and a following sea keeps me dry as we head for Government Cut Miami, 50 miles away. I arrive at 3 pm. Great time, great day, but tiring. A big Coast Guard Cutter follows me in. Miller time for us both. Into the marina by five, and two days later I de-rig and drive home. Lochan Ora now sits comfortably under the hay barn, out of the rain and sun. She looks so peaceful there. Hard to believe she did what she just did. Sitting here in my armchair, I look over some new charts.


Bruce McElya

Notes to MacGregor Owners

If I had the choice again, I would get a Honda 30 for the boat. Much better gas mileage, and you don't need the extra speed for the ocean. Seven knots was about the limit of comfort in a light chop, and I believe it would still be enough to drain the ballast while in the water.

I won't do an extended single-handed sail again without an auto-pilot.

Beware of the rudder brackets. Mine are aluminum. They should be beefed up, before going to sea.

Some kind of roll stabilizer is nice. I like to sleep at night sometimes. I have two, one deployed from a whisker pole, and one from the boom. Often one is enough.

Have two good anchors at the bow, ready for quick deployment. Bahamas, because of its swift currents, requires it. I have oversize rodes and shackles.

Get a ten foot dinghy with a hard floor if you really want to get out and about. I got a Honda 8 for my Zodiac. It is dependable and has a range (with my 9 gal tank) of about 150 miles, and easily gets up on plane with one person and loads of gear. It makes all the difference in the world. I never brought the dinghy aboard. I use the mast support arm and the mainsheet to bring motor aboard to an oak plate on rear stern rail. I drag dinghy with motor attached, except when making a long crossing, when I remove everything and drag it empty. Mount the motor on the port side somewhere. Sailboat is better balanced that way.

I only carry three sails and a whisker pole. Main, working jib (100%), genoa (135%). I put lugs on main for quick set and snuff. Furling headsails were sent to Doyle for UV protection. Cost about $175 ea. and a real pro job. Luff tape not necessary, unless you are racing the genny.

Worthless graphite cleats were replaced with metal ones.

Both halyard turning blocks replaced with roller bearing variety. Much better deal.

Two stern towing eyes were mounted to tow the dinghy, and vessels in distress. I had to cut 4' holes to access the area and covered them with cover plates from Boatowners Warehouse. These plates are inexpensive (three bucks) and look good.

Find a way to seal off water from getting into steering control cable. Salt water will freeze it up in no time. I sewed a canvas tube, soaked it in mink oil and put it on control rod. Tied it down with tie wraps. It works beautifully, and was simple to make. I carry an extra control cable and gear box on long journeys. You will need a puller to remove steering wheel from helm.

Longest passage in the Caribbean is from Bimini to Chub Cay at 88 miles, across the Great Bahama Banks. I have a 12 gallon spare that sits in front of the helm, and I bring aboard the dinghy tank for another 9. They are locked into place with a common bumper, somewhat deflated. This is a simple holdown, using something already on board. Also, I installed a cartridge fuel filter. It traps water and sediment. Better have that in a foreign country. My two-cycle outboard is so inneficient, that all that fuel would still not be enough to motor all the way, so wait for fair winds before making that crossing, unless you have a four-stroke.

The Exumas from Allens Cay to Staniel Cay is an incredible place. From Florida, it requires four major passages, one way. And as such, will require that you have at least two months for the round trip. A MacGregor is THE sailboat for the Bahamas. Because of its draft, you can go almost anywhere a dinghy can. And it will hold its own in big seas (6'-9' max). What a blast! I would advise against sailing anything above five foot seas. Be aware that 5' in the gulfstream with a north wind looks completely different than five footers in the same patch of ocean with winds from the south. Waves generated from any north quadrant become breakers in a hurry.

After leaving Bimini, the only weather you can get is out of Nassau, Highborne, and Staniel. Many yachtmen have ssb and are happy to give you a report if you ask. Know the weather report before you take off.

I ran into a fellow in Nassau doing a transfer. He has a 26x and has sailed it from above the arctic circle in Alaska, all the way to the Amazon and is heading up that river 2000 miles. His vessel is heavily modified. Here is a link to his website.

I replaced the factory cooler with one of those 'five day' Igloos. It keeps ice a whole lot longer. I removed the cover board and just sit on top of the cooler and factory foam cushion.

Be completely prepared for bugs in the Bahamas. They usually come in the evenings, and will give you extreme greif if boat is unprepared. I got the Sogeman brand screens for companionway and front hatch. They work flawlessly. Deep Woods Off is nice to have around as well.

I use a flexible solar charger to keep my two batteries up. Works pretty good too. if I don't run cabin lights too long, panel will keep the batts charged.

I have a backpacking tent that I use on shore when I can't get a quiet spot to anchor. It's kind of fun to sleep on shore now and then. Campfires, solid ground, wildlife and such.

Two handheld GPS are a good idea. One should be able to plug into a dc power source at the helm somewhere, so you won't be trying to change batteries at a critical time with the wind howling, darkness approaching, seas building, rain falling, etcetera, etc.

One MUST have an anchor light. I use that 1/10 of a watt model to keep battery drain down. It isn't coast gaurd approved, but works just fine.

Get a can of Corrosion-X for your boat. It is the best single substance you can carry. Use it anywhere water comes in contact with metal. It will also unfreeze anything you didn't protect to start with. In particular, the quick-connects on the fuel lines should be sprayed and worked free once every two weeks, and the one at the engine once a week. Get the factory connects for fuel, as they are always superior to the after market variety.

The absolute best pill for sea sickness is a prescription drug called Levison. I've tried every other thing out there and this one works every time, without fail. If I were to succumb to heaving during a dicey solo passage, my boat would be at risk.

I don't have bottom paint, and Florida waters are very fouling. Bahamian waters are not, so as soon as I get across, I immediately scrub the bottom to get the Florida barnicles off, and then once a month while over there. Running aground several times in sand does a pretty good job.

If you are serious about going to the Bahamas or farther, I will be happy to help you out if I can.

Email: Bruce McElya :

Img. 1Lochan Ora under sail.
Img. 2Wrecked DC-3 drug plane at Normans Cay anchorage.
Img. 3My boat with dinghy in foreground.
Img. 4Me with iguanas on Leaf Cay.
Img. 5Warderick Wells National Park.
Img. 6Rare 400 lb. Bahamian Sea Swine, hehe, this hog lives at Big Majors and begs for food from the cruisers anchored there.
Img. 7Spiney lobster south end of Cambridge Cay.
Img. 8Cruisers haunt on Hawkbill Cay.
Img. 9Reef near Cambridge Cay.
Img. 10Kids playing at Staniel Cay.
Img. 11Lochan Ora anchored out from beach at Moraine Cay.
Img. 12Me with a mutton snapper.
Img. 13Parrot fish near Rocky Dundas

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