The logistics of getting to the Bahamas during a pandemic.

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. Continue reading “The logistics of getting to the Bahamas during a pandemic.”

Back to the U.S.

Once we made the decision to head back to the U.S., we had to get the boat ready for a passage. The forecast showed excellent conditions for sailing most of the way which was good because we wanted to make the trip non-stop from Lee Stocking, and we didn’t have enough diesel to motor the whole way. Some of the marinas in the Bahamas were closing so access to fuel wasn’t guaranteed.

Being able to use the white floppy things on our boat is always our first choice, and now we were REALLY glad we had them vs. owning a motor boat and being dependent on fuel. An added bonus was that our weather window was several days longer than what we needed, giving us added flexibility to creep along under sail if the wind was lighter than forecast. We really couldn’t have asked for a better situation, giving us the additional confidence that we were making the right decision.

The wind had been blowing 20+ knots for several days (a theme for our stay this year), so we wanted to stay on the bank side of the Exumas. We were going to need some help from the tides to pull that off because heading north on the banks from Lee Stocking requires boats to go through the Pimlicos, which is shallower than what our boat draws. Fortunately a quick check of the tide tables showed they were in our favor, sparing us from very boisterous conditions on the Sound side. With everything stowed and the jacklines installed, we set the alarm to leave at sunrise on Saturday.

Continue reading “Back to the U.S.”

Miami and the Gulf Stream.

After spending several lovely days in Oleta River State Park, it was time to move down to Miami to wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream.  We had passed up an earlier window because it was a bit short for our taste and we just didn’t feel mentally ready for it.  That turned out to be a good call.  We later learned that a cruiser who had done the crossing over a dozen times considered it his worst ever, and we also heard of a few other boats that turned back.  That was NOT something we cared to experience.

We dropped the anchor at Marine Stadium on New Year’s Eve and ended up having a great stay in Miami.

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Motoring past the city on the way to the anchorage.

Some people complain on Active Captain about Marine Stadium on the weekends.  It gets pretty busy with power boats coming over from the city and anchoring out, partying with Latin music pumping, but we loved it.  People were courteous about not anchoring too closely and everyone was obviously having a great time.  It was impossible not to enjoy it.  And boy those boats can party!  We went to bed after the fireworks at midnight (we had a great view of them from the anchorage) and when I woke up at 7:00 a.m the next day I could hear the bass thumping.  I looked at Jeff and asked, “They’ve been partying literally all night?”  It was pretty funny.  Oh to be that young again.

Continue reading “Miami and the Gulf Stream.”

Our first Gulf Stream crossing.

We spent several days in the very large north anchorage in Lake Worth stocking up on last minute parts at West Marine and groceries at Publix.  While it was a bit of a scramble to get across the beached dinghies, the anchorage was convenient with Publix only a block away and West Marine a few minutes beyond that.  We even were able to pick up some items for our friends on S/V Lone Star.  They have been in the Bahamas since early December and are running low on chocolate in particular.  This constitutes a crisis on their boat and ours!  With a small package of Dove costing $10.00 in the Bahamas, we were more than happy to pick up extra chocolate for them, to be hand delivered at some point down the road.

All the while we were keeping an eye on Sunday’s forecast which appeared to have great potential for a Gulf Stream crossing.  The Gulf Stream runs in a northerly direction so conventional wisdom says not to be in it when there is wind from the north.  The wind against current stacks up the waves, and depending on the wind strength the resulting ride can be anywhere from very uncomfortable to deadly.  In the winter the crossing windows can be few and far between due to the fronts that regularly drop down from the north.  We had been looking at Sunday for several days, and we figured if the forecast changed we would simply continue to head farther south towards Miami and the Keys, and leave from there.

Continue reading “Our first Gulf Stream crossing.”