Sailing the Bahamas Part I - Preparing Your Boat
Every boat is different but each are prepared similarly when making a major crossing. In the upcoming weeks, Tipsy Gypsy will make its way across the Gulf Stream for the third time. Co-Captains, Mary and Tharon, have put together a two part guide to share their preparations before leaving and help others know what the check-in process looks like.
Although some sailors can navigate by the stars, we prefer to have electronics charts underway and paper charts for planning and for backup. It is important to make sure your electronic charts are updated and working properly before shoving off. We prefer Navionics on our mobile devices and plotter. We also use Active Captain for any social updates throughout our travels. As for paper charts for Bahamas, we prefer Explorer Chartbooks for their large-scale maps and Waterway Guides for routes and suggestions along the way.
It is also important to wait for the right weather window for your skill level. It is crucial for you to understand weather patterns, wind direction, and ocean swell. We cross reference multiple different weather apps to help us make the right decision in crossing safely. In addition to waiting for the right weather window, we have AIS and radar to help us know whats ahead of us, whether it may be another boat or an incoming front. Be prepared how you see fit but also be confident.
Maintenance is an ongoing process, especially when living aboard a sailboat. To make sure you do not get overwhelmed by all the things to do, it is important to first make a list. Start at the bow and making your way to the stern, note any of the boat maintenance you may need to take care of before heading out on a major trip. From there, do the same for the interior. You of course don't need to worry about too many cosmetic issues, just focus on the important items that will NEED attention or may be pricey away from your familiar ports. In addition to the ins and outs, check the engine room, lazerettes, and bilge. I'll share with you our checklist but is by no means a complete guide (every boat is different after all).
A Checklist for Boat Maintenance Tips
- Anchor + Ground Tackle - Trust your setup or make an upgrade. Have your main anchor and a back up
- Bahamian Mooring - Common term for setting two anchors off the bow
- Dinghy + Outboard - Do NOT tow your dinghy across the Gulf Stream or while making any passage. Haul it up on the deck or davits.
- Check all your Lighting - Navigation lights and anchor light are the most important but ALL of them should be working properly for safety.
- Windlass + Winches - Serviced and working properly
- Macerator - Pumpouts are not readily available in the Bahamas, prepare accordingly.
- Solar Power/Wind Power - Solar panels should be secured properly and you may need to tie down your wind generators.
- Sails - Free of wear and tear, rips or snags
- Engine - Oil change, replace oil pads, fuel filters, check impeller, check belts, check raw water strainer, etc.
- Batteries - Depends on the battery - check for any sort of corrosion
- Bilge - Make sure the bilge is clean and dry
- Lazerettes - Keep clean and organized for easy accessibility
- Boat Bottom - Clean the hull, clean the prop/strut, and replace zincs
- Deck - Secure everything down
- Cabin - Stow anything that could become a hazard underway
- Order Spare Parts - Patches, impellers, belts, filters, zincs, etc.
We don't have ALL the bells and whistles when it comes to safety gear but will have as much as we can, as we can afford it. When heading over to the Bahamas, you should at least have the minimum requirements of the United States Coast Guard (USCG). Here's a quick checklist to make sure you're ready to go! And another in case you want to prepare even more safely.
- Life Jackets - USCG approved, serviced properly, and worn while underway.
- Visual Distress Signals
- Fire Extinguishers
- Backfire Flame Control
- Sound Producing Devices
- Navigation Lights
- Pollution Regulations
- Marine Sanitation Devices
If you would like more details on any of the above items, here is a PDF going into more detail:
Extra Credit Safety Gear
- Life Raft - An expensive piece of equipment that we hope no one ever has to use. Make sure you keep it serviced properly in case it's ever needed.
- Personal EPIRB - Wear on your life jacket for personal GPS once activated.
- Vessel EPIRB - Mount inside your vessel to provide GPS once activated.
- Safety Courses can help boaters be better prepared. View a list of course options, here.
- Ditch Bag - Ours is waterproof with water and food provisions, flashlights, space blankets, first aid kit, hats, sunglasses, etc.
Last but not least is provisioning for a trip to the Bahamas. Island life will make certain things more expensive and local items more affordable, so prepare accordingly. Bring extra of the items you personally enjoy, as you may not see it for a long while, and over prepare for meats, cheeses, and beer. In the Bahamas, you will have plenty of fish and seafood readily available. Locals will trade their fresh catch for beer (a lot of times) and you should have plenty on hand if you enjoy it. Beer is typically $5 per bottle (sometimes higher) whether you're at the store or at a restaurant and that, my friends, is for a Bud Light. If you enjoy craft beers (like us), I highly suggest coming prepared so that you don't run out ;) If you want different alcohol besides beer, Rum is cheap, and other liquors are reasonable. Wine is also something you don't need to over prepare for unless you have favorite brands or types. Fresh produce is always decently priced but not the BEST looking. Paper products, crackers, chips, and other groceries can also be pricey.
The prices are inflated but for good reason, the islands receive limited shipments and aren't the best with restocking due to the sporadic supply chain to different islands. We highly suggest knowing the days in which deliveries are made so that you may have first pick and prepare before arrival as much as you can. It of course gets pricey to provision EVERYTHING beforehand but this strategy has saved us money in the long run. If you enjoy eating out, restaurant prices are reasonable for food, and you’ll get to enjoy all the local eats as much as possible.
Cheers and thanks for reading!
Read More - Part II - Checking In to the Bahamas
If you have additional questions about making the Gulf Stream Crossing to Bahamas, keep an eye out for our second post about the check-in process or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org