The Bahamas are in the unenviable position of trying to support an economy that is heavily reliant on tourism while protecting its citizens and residents from Covid. Many of their tourists come from the United States which is one giant Covid hotspot at the moment. We wouldn’t have been surprised if the government had simply told people with U.S. passports that they weren’t welcome (as so many other countries have). Instead, they came up with a plan to balance the risks. So far, it seems to be working well – knock on wood.
Currently (and I do mean currently – there was a period where the rules were changing every 7-10 days), in order to bring your boat over to cruise in the Bahamas you need to have a negative RT-PCR Covid test and an approved health visa. The catch is that you can’t apply for the health visa until you get your negative Covid test, and with a few exceptions you must arrive in the Bahamas no more than five days after you take the test (test day is day zero). Winter weather windows for crossing the Gulf Stream can be tight, so the key is to find a laboratory with a quick turnaround time, along with a certain amount of luck.
When we arrived in West Palm we were actually in the middle of a three day weather window for crossing, but we had decided to pass it up. Our heads weren’t ready for it yet and we wanted to spend a few days checking out West Palm. We are super-careful with Covid so we weren’t able to see much, but we saw enough to know that we’d like to spend a week hanging out there post-Covid. There are tons of different restaurants and independent shops, the beach, museums, outdoor concerts, etc. Hopefully next year.
No matter how big your boat is, someone else always has a bigger one:
Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the next window. We were looking for a solid two days that would get us to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, with a backup plan to check in at West End (only 50 nautical miles away from the Lake Worth inlet) if the window shrank.
What’s the big deal with taking the test and having the window disappear? Well, at $180/person for the tests (there are free tests available, but it’s a roll of the dice as to how quickly the results come back), $60/person for the health visa, plus a rental car, we were looking at a sizeable chunk of money if the window didn’t pan out. That being said, we would never cross the Gulf Stream without a good window so if we lost $500+, so be it.
When we woke up on Monday we saw that Friday was a possibility for crossing. By Tuesday morning it looked less likely. But on Wednesday morning not only did Friday look much better, but now Saturday and Sunday were also looking good. We reserved a rental car for the next day, just in case.
Thursday morning we woke up to listen to Chris Parker’s 6:30 a.m. forecast for the Bahamas and Florida. The window was still looking good. Gut check time: were we ready to roll the dice and spend the money? Telling ourselves it’s only money (yeah, right), we decided to go for it.
We walked to Enterprise and drove 45 minutes to LabDoctor in Fort Lauderdale. There was a place in Jupiter also offering tests with 24 hour results for $110 vs. LabDoctor’s $180, but they required an appointment and they were booking a few days out. It wasn’t worth the risk of missing the window to save $140 between the two of us. We arrived at LabDoctor at 9:30 a.m. and were out of there within 20 minutes, noses tingling but not violated!
Our negative results came back by 9:00 p.m. that night, and our health visas were approved within a few hours. Immigration also wanted paper copies of the tests and visas, so after printing out the documents at the public library the next morning (Friday), we topped off our diesel and gasoline, anchored closer to the inlet, and got a few hours of sleep in preparation for our midnight departure.
The alarm went off at 11:15 p.m., and after another quick check of the forecast it was go time. With the anchor up shortly after midnight, we were off! It was a bit of a rolly crossing and we had a light rain shower about an hour into it, but otherwise it was completely uneventful – just as we like it! In fact, it was very similar to our first passage, right down to the wind completely dying when we were on the Bank.
After a good night sleep at Great Sale Cay we were up before dawn to make our way to Green Turtle. A cold front was scheduled to arrive after sundown so we didn’t want to dawdle. Wind of under 10 knots dead on the nose (again, just like our first passage!) made the whole trip a motorfest, but by 5:00 p.m. we were tied up in our slip at the Green Turtle Club marina.
The next day’s weather kept the immigration officer from coming over on the ferry, but no worries. It’s the Bahamas ‘mon. By Tuesday we were checked in and free to roam about the country, with no other requirements except the need to get another Covid test at the five day mark, and we also had to fill out a short daily health survey via e-mail for the next 14 days.
There were some extra logistics to deal with this year, but we are SO GLAD we made the effort to do it. This is our earliest arrival in the Bahamas yet, and assuming all goes well we are looking forward to spending the next five months sailing around our favorite cruising area.