AN Bahamas to the Eastern Caribbean

Best time: Tropical storms: Charts:


Cruising guides:

Mid-April to June, November to mid-December June to November fillPi^

US: 147

Gentleman's Guide to Passages South, Yachtsman's Guide to the Bahamas, Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands.

Having reached the Southern Bahamas either by one of the offshore routes or through the islands, the subsequent leg to the Virgins will be to windward for most of the way and also for most of the year. The route has been called the 'thorny path', and for very good reason. The best time to undertake it is at the change of seasons, when the trade winds are lighter and the risk of hurricanes not so great. Another matter of concern, apart from the contrary winds, are the strong currents that occur in this area. These, combined with the numerous reefs, low islands, and few lights call for accurate navigation at all times.

Those who are determined to sail offshore to either the Virgins or Lesser Antilles, and are confident that their boat is capable of it, should gain the open ocean by the quickest way and set an easterly course as soon as possible. This avoids the strong NW current setting parallel to the Bahamas. If the winds allow it, the due east course should be held until the longitude of the port of destination is reached and course is altered to the south.

An offshore passage from the Southern Bahamas to the Virgins, either direct (AN113A) or via Puerto Rico, can regain the ocean through the Crooked Island, Mayaguana, Caicos, or Turks Passages. The initial course should lead well clear of all dangers, including the banks east of Grand Turk. A variation of such an offshore route is described in AN116. Because of contrary wind and current, such a passage would be very difficult; unless the winds are northerly or light, an alternative route (AN113B) may have to be considered. This means staying south of Caicos and sailing along the north coasts of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Even when the trade winds are strong these high islands provide some lee and light coastal breezes.

Directions for boats sailing to one of the northern islands in the Lesser Antilles are very similar.

However, those whose destination lies further south, should consider taking an offshore route from the Mona Passage onwards. Having sailed along the north coast of Hispaniola as far as Samana, at Mona Passage the route enters the Caribbean Sea. At the beginning of winter, NE winds ought to make it possible to reach some of the more southern islands, such as Grenada or Trinidad, on one tack. This route is not recommended towards spring when the winds become SE.

An alternative chosen every year by numerous sailors is to sail the distance in short stages. The best tactics to be deployed are described in The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South, which is dedicated to this very route. The advice given in that book, and also by others who have sailed that difficult route, is to take one's time and watch the weather carefully. Even in winter, when strong easterlies are the norm, the frequent fronts provide a respite of calms and light winds. The recommended tactic is to sail ahead of such fronts and then run for shelter as the front approaches. The weather is usually uncomfortable for 12 hours before a frontal passage and for about 24 hours afterwards.

As the voyage may be interrupted in the Turks and Caicos Islands, entry formalities in those islands can be completed at the following ports: Sapodilla Bay (Providenciales, 21 °44"N, 72'17'W), Cockburn Harbour (South Caicos, 21D30'N, 71°3l'W), and Cockburn Town (Grand Turk, 21 °28'N, 71 WW). Convenient ports of entry on the north coast of the Dominican Republic are Puerto Plata (19D49'N, 70°42'W), Manzanillo Bay (19'43'N, 71 °45'W), and Samana (19°12*N, 69 °26'W). The official port of entry on Puerto Rico's west coast is Mayaguez (18°12'N, 67807'W) and not Boqueron. Although a US territory, US boats must clear into Mayaguez like everyone else. An additional suggestion for those sailing along the south coast of Puerto Rico, especially at night, is

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