Sunday, December 16, 2007

Planning Guides, Chartering in the Bahamas

Let's get started. You want to plan a trip in the Bahamas, sailing the pirate's routes to explore the bays and islands they called home. It goes without saying, that a certain experience is required to captain your own boat. However, other great options are also available if you feel your sailing resume may not be ready for a bare boat adventure. For one, you can rent a sailboat with captain and crew. You will be learning the finer points of sailing, while discovering the islands in a safe and controlled environment. Or, if you're looking for a guide to show you round the Exumas, you can join a flotilla of several boats that is headed by a lead captain. Whichever option you choose, the experience is guaranteed to be unforgettable.

Now that you have selected the type of rental or charter that suites your experience, the date is the next step in your adventure. The Bahamas are at the same latitude as South Florida, so choose your dates with this in mind. December and January are cooler than February through May. The average temperature in winter runs between 78F to 90F in the day and 65F to 75F in the evening, which is very comfortable for all activities. The winter months do have the unfortunate temperature swings, with occasional cold fronts. These cold fronts last for three days and bring cooler temperatures, strong winds, and higher seas. The advantage of winter months, which brings me back each year to the Exumas, is the low concentration of tourist. The Cays are your private playground during the winter. The best anchorages are empty, allowing you the feeling of being alone in the world... If a winter trip to the Exumas is your choice, a strong knowledge of sailing, under all conditions, is highly recommended.

Now you have chosen the date of your adventure, other questions must be considered. How long a trip can you offer yourself? My personal recommendation is 10 to 14 days. This gives you and your crew time to stop and smell the roses. You will be exploring a breathtaking paradise with many secrets to discover, so take the time to appreciate the Bahamas. Plan to visit fewer Cays, and you will enjoy the adventure much more. The Exumas have been there for millions of years, so leave some for your next voyage. Remember, it takes a day of travel to get to Nassau and a day to get back. If you plan on a 7-day vacation, you will only have 5 days left to enjoy this wonderful paradise.

The most important decision is How many and Who to invite to join you on this voyage. When you begin planning your trip, you will find many people willing to join your crew. The reality is that you need to select your guests or crew very carefully. Living 24/7 with others is without a doubt the biggest challenge on any vessel. Again, less is better. If your boat has three staterooms, then six people on board is maximum. And no, the concept that the dinning table converts into a bed is not an option! A sailboat shrinks a foot a day when you live aboard. People need space to breath, so don't over crowd the living quarters of your boat. The type of person I like to choose is easy going, lives in the moment, loves to explore, and is happy with the simple pleasures of life. People that are into camping and hiking are often well adapted to living aboard. The people to avoid are the high maintenance type. With these passengers, you will be spending your entire vacation trying to make them happy. Or a couple that says, "We would love to come, it will give us a chance to 'fix' our relationship." is a forecast for trouble!!! They will be arguing the whole trip and you will end up a seagoing marriage councillor. Well, you get the idea, choose wisely. The size of boat. Hummmm… How big can I get? Wrong! How big can I handle with my experience? Is the better question to ask. Let's say you are a crew of six on this trip. Your first question is, how much experience do I have? What am I comfortable with, as size of vessel? If you have only sailed a 32 or 34 foot boat, stay under 40 feet. The boat will have three staterooms, all the amenities you need, and will be in your comfort zone to handle. Second question is, what experience does my crew have? If the answer is little to none, then definitely, 40 feet is a lot of boat for one person to handle. Remember, if the crew is green, you will be giving a crash course in sailing every time you execute a manoeuvre. In addition, bang for your buck, a 40 foot usually delivers the best value. Which company should I rent from? Private? Corporate? My rule of thumb is the following; I will only rent a boat from a well-established company, with several boats available. Why? Because if I rent from Joe, who has only one boat and no one to take care of maintenance; yes, it will be cheep, but I will be spending my precious vacation repairing his boat. No, I want a recent boat, with a company that will make sure that I will be getting on a safe and well-maintained vessel. It is worth the few hundreds of dollars more, to be assured of quality. Second rule of thumb, avoid any boat over six years old or you will be turning a beautiful vacation into a nightmare. Logistics. Leaving from Montreal or Burlington? Burlington is cheaper, but requires a sleepover in Burlington the night before your 6:00 AM flight departure. The hotel will cost about $120.00 US per night, but they will keep your car for the duration of the trip at no extra cost. Montreal departures are double the price and instead of arriving in Nassau at 12:00 noon, you will be arriving in the evening. This means that you will be loosing a day of sailing for buying your provisions. I always fly from Burlington and return there. Remember to ensure that you and your crew have all your travel documents with you before leaving Montreal.

Directions from Montreal:

From Montreal (97 miles, 2 hours) and Points North, take Autoroute 10E to Autoroute 35; Turn slight left onto Boulevard d’Iberville/Provincial Secondary Route 133 South. Enter U.S., proceed south on I-89 to exit 14E toward South Burlington. Drive east 1.5 miles on Williston Rd./Rt. 2. Turn left onto Airport Dr.

What`s next to plan. Start learning and preparing your Sail Plan. The Internet is a great resource of information about the Cays.
When I am planning a charter, I start by determining the activities the group wants to do. Scub diving, fishing, sailing, sun bathing, hiking, ect. from this list I start looking at locations that will permit us to achieve there requests. Remember, you can't please everyone all the time. It is a balancing act, that combines travel, activities and oh Mother nature.... Finally all plans are always depending on the weather. So under sell and over achieve! Snokling is easier, quicker and can be done by the whole crew at the same time. Try to focus on activities that include everyone, rather than activities like scuba diving, kitting or wind surfing, which require alot of equipment and time to enjoy. What do you do with the rest of the crew when two members are gone diving for most of the afternoon, oh with your dinghy!!! Well reading is always an oppition. ure date arrives, YAHOO!!
After a long day of traveling your group has finally arrived in Nassau, and the adventure begins... TRANSPORT is very simple, as you exit the airport there is many taxis, mini vans and for the rich and famous ( or want to be's) strech limos waiting to take you to your marina. They charge between $30.00 to $40.00 US per trip. The local drives are very plesant and if you ask they will proudly tell you a little history of the islands. The ride takes you about 45 minutes and usely is a fun rollar coaster ride.
Apon arriving at your charter base, you will meet the customer service representive. They will guide to your boat and help you get settled. Remember that Saturday is a very busy day, with customers coming and going. I suggest you settle in to your boat and save the list of questons till a little later. Get your crew to place there personal item in there rooms and take a moment to relax in the cockpit with a cold beer or rum punch. This will give you the time to discover your boat, prepare a few questons and discide who will do the groceries, wine provitions, ect... Your representive will comes back around to see to all your needs, this is queston time. I suggest you send two or three crew to do the provitions and a couple to buy the beer and wine. The captian then is free to spend an hour with the rep, reviewing the boats opperations. Apon the return of your crew, you can now help to store the food and enjoy the time together, you are almost ready to go.You may have notice that I haven't reviewed the menu for the week. Well this is simple, the grocery stores, wine and beers outlets, resemble the ones at home so it will be very comfortable to do your provitions. We do most of our provitions at City Market, they offer a good selection of dried goods, fresh vegis and meats. Don't over look the frozen food section, many of your items can be found, already frozen. Avoid any frozen chichen that is square in shape, it has unfrozen and refrozen at least once and who knows for how long. You will find the prices, on certian items higher than home. I suggest to compare prices and brands, the costs can be quite different. You can always start with the fish market at Potters Cay, an exciting local market. The fisherman set up early each morning, with there fresh catch. Great deals can found, wonderful fish and shell fish.

You are shopping for a full week, so remember that conveniance stores don't exist in the Exumas, so bring more than less. If you where to forget an item, an other boat will surely be able to help you out. I find we tend to eat or snack, more often than at home, so think of easy snacks for the day and evening. If the days sailing is in moderate to strong seas, you will want to have food prepared a head to quickly and easily feed the group. Some ideas, peanuts, corn chips, fresh vegis and dip, sandwiches, wraps, cold pasta salads and the list goes on... Some crew may not feel well on windy days and it is important to keep them warm, hydrated and lightly fed all day. I prepare food in advance each morning, this frees me from having to work in the galley in ruff weather. Zip locks and aluminum foil are a great time saver. An example, you can cut up fresh vegis into a zip lock and put a dip into a tupper ware for quick and easy serving. Fresh vegis are good fibre and full of water so a great snack choice on ruff days. Pita wraps stay fresh a very long time, compared to sliced bread. Prepare a wrap with greens and sliced cold cuts and wrap them up in foil, anyone can grab one out of the fridge when hungery. Well you are getting the idea, be prepared, especially with children aboard! A quick reminder, everything take twice as long to prepare on a boat, so if you are planning to serve a meal at a certian time add an hour to your usual prep time. If you have a little more time and you wish a small adventure, the local fish markets are great..

All boats have life vest but they are sized for adults. You must bring floatation devises, sized for your children with you! Also before leaving, insure that you have life lines on board for each child. I have two children and one on the way. They have sailed since they where infants and still enjoy the sport today. Children can't keep still for hours and hours so I have always set them up with a comfortable sized life jacket and a short life line. This permits them to move arround safely and removes the stress that they may fall overboard. The rule onboard my boat is the following, when a child comes on deck they must have a life vest on and when on route we add the life line..This young sailer is two and half years old and loved his 14 day trip around the Exumas. as you can see, he is very comfortable and safe in his personal sailing gear. Remember to bring games and toys that are boat friendly. Beach time every day is always an important part of the activities, kids have to run around. Also think protective clothing, sun, wind, cold, affect there small bodies quickly. Children don't notice the affects the enviroment has on them until it's to late, SO BE PROACTIVE. I always keep a drinking bottle of juc on deck for the little ones, dehydration happens quickly in children.

The morning starts early, usely sunrise, with the final preparations for departure. A healthy breakfast is a good idea, the crossing will take about six hours. The final check list as follows, fuel, gas for dinghy, top water tanks, saftey gear, review boat equipment, secure the galley and food for the trip. The charter rep will assist you in leaving the dock and way you go, with the fleet to the Exumas. The lead boat will guide out of the harbor and past Atoll to Poggy rock waypoint. There is a few sand banks and coral heads, so follow the lead captians directions. From Poggy rock waypoint, it 29km to Hybourne cay. Follow the maps prefered route, 136 degees will take to Hybourne Stake. A few hours out of Nassau you will be approaching the coral heads, marking the begining of Yellow Bank. For the next five miles there is large coral heads and they must be avoided. This is far from as bad as it seems, the coral head stand out as large black masses on the cyristal clear ocean. The are a few 100 yards apart and sometimes in small groups of three. I have a crew member posted at the bow, there reasonsible to point to any coral heads, directly in front of our path. The captian simply steers around the obstical. Yes it is as simple as that... A few other detials include, try to arrive at Yellow bank late morning. The higher the sun is in the sky, the clearer the water will be, also dull and cloudy days make the spots job a little tuffer. The Bahamas is VNA (Visual navigation area) maps are good, cartplotter great but visual navigation is a must. My next trip to the Exumas I will take some pictures from top of the mast, this will give a good example of what I am discribing. When on Yellow bank you will see many small coral heads, about 12 inches to 30 inches in diameter. These are small and safe to sail over. The lead captian will guide you threw and you will see it is simple. Two more hours on the sand bank and Hybourne cay will be apon you. The first thing you will see, when your about five miles out is the radio tower. You will ancor off the beach, to the north of the tower. There is a large coral reef, starting at the north point of the island and coming west for about a mile before hooking south. Yes please go around it! As a rule most appoches to ancorages in the Exumas are from the south west. To the north is Alans Cay and to south Normans Cay. Further south you will find Shoud Cay and Halksbill Cay. The next Cay worth a stop is Wardwick wells, the marine park base. You will spend your week exporing these beautiful Cays and before you know, it's time to head back to Nassau base. Friday morning the heading is north west, Nassau bond. The ride home is usualy a little quicker, because of your wind direction. You can count on a broad reach for the return trip. I like to get on the way early. An early start gets you back in Nassau for 14:00, this give you all afternoon to visit Nassau, Atlantis, straw markets and the duty free stores. A final supper on board or if you are looking for something a little different and local in taste, Fish Fry is a must. Great local cusine and atmosphere. We always visit Winny the owner of Belly Full. She is the best..

The Wrap up

Saturday morning is packing and cleaning. Try to leave your boat as sharp as you recieved it, clean decks, heads and galley. If you sailed with a captain and crew, it is customary to leave a thank you tip. These sailers work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to insure you have an exciting and safe trip.
Speak to the base rep to organize a taxi, he will order one in advance for you.
You should be at the airport two hours before your flight, so leave the marina about three hours before flying time. Say your goodbyes and we will see you next year.

If you would like more information, you contact Jacque Lavoie Pres. of Navtours.
The link to there site is on the side bar. You can also write me at my contact information. Hope you enjoyed the blog and I hope to share more shortly.

We will be leaving for the Bahamas, Oct. 15 2008 from Mooney Bay NY. and do offer the following services.
# preparation planning for your trip, from Lake Champlain to Nassau.
-boat prep info
-security prep info
-boat inspection
-sail plan, Hudson, New York, Norfolk, Intercoastal, Beaufort
-where to start
-what you need
-managing your money
-where to get repairs
-Where to buy supplies
# for all customers that register for the planning service we invite you to join our experienced team of captian on the voyage to Nassau. This is a curtisy for our new friends to help them have a safe and wonderful trip. WE PLAN THAT THE TRIP WILL TAKE A LITTLE OVER ONE MONTH.

1 comment:

alain said...

Loads of fun. Been there twice. Very professional crew. Clean and safe boats.
Would recommend to anyone wanting to sail the Exumas.

Alain Montreal