Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What's the Top Sailing Destination?

"What is your favorite destination?" is probably the second most common question that cruisers get asked by landlubbers (after "How can you afford this?") It's a hard one to answer because it's kind of like asking a parent, "Who's your favorite child?" Each place is so unique with it's own special appeal and when it's all said and done, most islands and destinations end up balancing out based on their features, attractions and -yes- minor detractions. Some islands are known for their inland adventures, some are better known for their sea life. Some locals are friendly, some more aggressive. Some offer fun social activities whereas others are uninhabited. Cheap vs. expensive, beach bars vs. beach combing ....yadda yadda... All of the above work in a yin/yang sort of way depending on the destination, so to say what's the "best" is not only totally subjective but really hard because there are so many variables to consider.

So when LOOK Insurance Services ran their own list on the "Top 5 Most Exotic Sailing Destinations" and invited us to chime in, I decided to use their criteria of: 'climate', 'scenery' and 'clearness of the water' to come up with our "top destination".

So, based on those three things, the winner is (drum roll please)....The Bahamas. Hands down.

Granted, we've only covered a tiny sliver of the planet by boat but for us - based on our travels thus far - it doesn't get much better than the Bahamas.


To say they are "awesome" really does them no justice. But they. are. awesome.

When we were first planning our trip five years ago, we were going to skip this island chain and sail right for the British Virgin Islands. Our (embarrassing) mentality was, "If they are so close to the USA, then they can't be that cool". I know, what an incredibly ignorant way to think. More planning and the desire to take "baby steps" finally put this incredible island chain on our sailing itinerary and for that I am very, very grateful. We've cruised the Exumas twice and plan to spend a full season in the Bahamas in the near future. So what's the deal? I'll break it down for you:

The Climate:
Sharing the same latitude with much of Florida means the Bahamas are almost a temperate -yet still tropical - climate. We cruised there between the months of February and April and we never felt uncomfortably hot. Daytime it was bathing suits, shorts and tanks and evenings almost always required a light sweatshirt or long pants. After having spent two summers in Grenada (out of the hurricane zone) where it is hotter than Hades, I really enjoy/appreciate a place where you don't stew in your own sweat 24/7.

The Scenery:
When I scan through the sixteen thousand photos I have from the past four years (note to self: must organize photos) - the best are, bar none, the ones from the Bahamas. They are almost cliche in their "tropical island-ness" and each one looks like a photoshopped postcard. Except they are not. Low lying sun-bleached islands surrounded by water that covers every shade of blue and green from cobalt to topaz, from teal to hunter with endless vistas of sea and sky for as far as the eye can see. It's spectacular.

The Water:
Sigh. It's all about the water. The average depth of the Bahama banks is something ridiculous like ten feet. It's also as clear as the day is long. Literally. You can drop your anchor in twenty-four feet of water and watch it dig in to the pillowy, white sand (added bonus: anchoring in twelve to fifteen feet of clear water is so much nicer/easier than anchoring in thirty feet of dark water). When you are sailing, you can look over the rail and see red starfish thirty feet down. We have yet to go anywhere with water as beautiful as the water in the Bahamas (the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines come close, as do the Turks and Caicos). The windwards and leewards don't even come close to the kind of water clarity that the Bahamas dishes up each and every day.

....and I just can't stop there....

Other bonuses of the Bahamas:

The Safety:
This is a biggie. The only place we ever locked our dinghy up was in Nassau (which is the capitol and where something like 75% of Bahamians live, leaving many many islands completely uninhabited) and never needed to raise it or lock it at night (not the case just about everywhere else we've travelled). We never worried when we left our boat and we never felt threatened or harassed by the locals. Tourism is the countries "bread and butter" and they work hard to maintain a great reputation. Furthermore, because most of the islands in the Exumas can only be accessed by boat or small charter plane, locals in these very small communities really respect and love the visitors they do get. There is a peacefulness and serenity that is unique to the Bahamas and to experience it is something quite wonderful.

The Variety:
The Bahamas offer over 700 islands, cays and islets to explore. There are so many places to see that you can cruise the Bahamas for ten years and still discover new and interesting spots that you've never seen before. It's no wonder so many folks return year after year. Within the Bahamas are a slew of "distinct" island chains that all have their own 'feel' and offer up something a little different. From the Abacos to the Berrys, from the Exumas to the Raggads there is truly something for everyone.

The Solitude:
There are not too many places in this world where you can feel like you have your own private place. The Bahamas are one such place. We could travel with the "herd" and be among other cruisers when we wanted, but if we were craving some solitude - it was only a short sail away. With so many islands and so many anchorages, you are never too far from your very own paradise.

The Sailing:
Because of the way the Bahamas are situated, you can access most islands without ever having to sail in the open ocean.  The Islands of the Bahamas act as a natural wave barrier so if you stay "inside" the banks, you get all the wind but almost none of the waves making many passages in decent weather true pleasure sails. Also, because there are so many islands you can almost always sail where the wind takes you and end up in a great little anchorage. Furthermore, because the islands are so close together, you almost never have to do a passage longer than a few hours (aside from crossing the gulf stream) which is also nice for those just starting out or traveling with small children.

The People:
Bahamians are among the most generous people we have come across in our travels. We've been invited into their homes, their businesses and their churches with open arms. They have not been embittered by mass tourism and are just plain good. Considering that a large part of the enjoyment of travel is connecting with the locals, this is a biggie for us.

The convenience:
Being so close to Florida and the good ole' US of A has its perks and many cruisers sail to and from the states in a single season to either store their boat, do repairs or re-provision. Also - because the many islands of the Bahamas are all united under a single flag, you can travel between them without having to clear in and out of customs (which can be a royal pain in the butt), not to mention the fact that you can use a single SIM card to stay connected while you are there (as opposed to the windwards/leewards where you must check in and out and where you might need a new cell provider from island to island). The Bahamas truly are, "So close, yet so far away."

So there you have it. Just a few of the reasons we love the Bahamas.  So what do you think? Do you have a favorite sailing destination?  I also did an additional Q&A I did on the Bahamas for our good friends on s/v Necesse if you want to learn more!


Anonymous said...

I've read some stories where cruisers started on the West Coast of the US, circumnavigated and got to the Bahamas last. They then said if we knew this was here, we would have just bought a boat in Florida and come straight away.
The Bahamas offer all the enticements of worldwide tropical cruising in a convenient package close to home. Yet there are still places to go for the more adventurous cruisers that are way off the beaten path.

Windtraveler said...

@Sailingwanderer - so very true, I have heard similar stories. We love the Bahamas and they really do offer something for everyone -and you can TOTALLY go "off the grid" (like, to the Raggads) but for those who like to stay with the group - they can do that. I should also have mentioned that the fishing (and kiteboarding) are pretty epic here too!

megerin.blogspot.com said...

We started our cruising early 2006 by sailing directly to Jost van Dyke from Florida. Meanwhile, our friends spent their first season in the Bahamas. We were somewhat perplexed by their blog - waiting out frequent storm systems (high winds & lightning)for 1-1/2 weeks before going anywhere, while in the Virgin Islands we were having excellent weather & could go anywhere we pleased. After 4 years in the Caribbean we did 3 years in the Bahamas & then understood what they had gone through. While I agree with much you said about the Bahamas, we are SO happy to be back in the Virgin Islands. Here is why:
1) Out of the storm systems! Sure, we have some high winds and occasional north swell events, but nothing like we experienced in the Bahamas.
2) Excellent anchorages with plenty of water for our 6 foot draft. No more waiting for high tide to go into a harbor or negotiate a cut.
3) Excellent sailing and snorkeling - and a lot less sharks!
4) Good communications. My AT&T works from many places in the BVI & BVI phone rates are getting better all the time. Also, wifi available and better than in the USVI
5) Excellent boat services available & parts can be shipped to you in the USVI.
6) The scenery. Love the water in the Bahamas but the land is so flat and monotonous - we love the hills and with every light change they look different.
7) The whole nautical feel to many of the places in the BVI - especially Nanny Cay. Sailing is still the BOMB there.
Don't get me wrong - Bahamas are beautiful (Rum Cay!) & the people are so wonderful, but for the greatest sailing experience we will vote for the Virgin
Respectfully submitted!

Windtraveler said...

@Megerin - That is awesome! I always welcome other views, particularly from very experienced cruisers who have been there, done that. You are so right about the weather systems - that is definitely a big downside in the Bahamas, and I agree the lack of contour to the land leaves a little to be desired. I am also happy to hear all your high points for the Virgins as we will be heading there in January! Good to know! We cruised the BVI's three separate times but never more than a couple weeks at a time so we're looking forward to spending more time. Perhaps we'll sing a new tune afterwards! Thanks for chiming in.

Anthyllide said...

It always gets us excited when people start asking questions, even when it's just “What's your favorite place?” or “How can you afford this?” Wouldn't it be great if instead they asked: “What did you discover out there?”

The water sure is clear in the Bahamas – like gliding on a pool of sapphires and emeralds. And there really are some wonderful people as well. It's just too bad that the wildlife – the true wealth of the Bahamians – is in most places M.I.A... .. .


Not so long ago, a healthy population of [now extinct] monk seals actually swam through those crystal clear waters. Now you can consider yourself lucky if you don't have to go on a major excursion just to find a conch for dinner. Invasive lionfish are now poised to gobble up the last bits of life that hasn't disappeared with warming seas and coral bleaching.

Regardless, we sure love those Bahamas.

Hope you guys are finding some comfort in the Great White North. Detroit is feeling COLD.

Windtraveler said...

Anthyllide! Hello!! Sorry I neglected your last intro/comment - we DO have mutual friends and I have heard so much about you both and how awesomely salty you both are ("salty" as in seasoned cruisers with tons of knowlege!) Never heard about the monk seals - wow, that is sad. And yes, those damn lionfish - while pretty to look at and so easy to spearfish - are so awful (kind of like asian carp up here)...

It is so cold here now. Scott actually loves winter and the snow (reminiscent of being a ski bum in Park City - where I, too, would love the winter!) but I cannot WAIT to get to the BVIs!! If you ever find yourselves in the Chicago area, drop us a line and lets get together. Perhaps we can all come up with an exit strategy together ;)

I saw a funny quote today: "the air where I live hurts my face. Why do I live somewhere where the air hurts my face??" #goodquestionstoaskyourself ;)

Jessica said...

Having the Bahamas be the first place we visited outside of the US while cruising, I don't think we appreciated them to their full extent. I think they were built up so much in our minds that our first time around we were actually a little disappointed (and bored?!)
But now that we have a few more miles under our belt, wow, do we love and miss the Bahamas. Our five weeks there this past year just flew by and we did not want to leave. Now we're counting down the months until we can get back. Definitely some of the BEST cruising grounds we've come across.

P.S. Looking forward to (hopefully!) meeting up in the BVI's in a few months. :)

Unknown said...

Go to bermuda

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