Unless otherwise stated, all of the following information is from our March 2014 trip and may not reflect the current reality. If you find any incorrect information, or think I should add something, email me using the address listed at http://www.klevitt.us, or any other email address you have for me.
When winds from the North contact the Gulf Stream from the South, very large waves are the result. Very few people would be happy crossing in these conditions. Even after winds have shifted, it may take some time for the waves to calm down.
Most people will wait in Florida for a good weather window. I used http://www.barometerbob.org and the smart phone app Predict Wind to watch the conditions for an upcoming window. There is a free version of Predict Wind, but you can purchase a 3 month subscription to an upgraded version for not too much money.
In 2013, I passed up a "no wind" day because I wanted to sail rather than motor. This was a mistake. It was another 7 days before another weather window opened up.
The Gulf Stream will push you North as you cross, so it is better to start off from the South. I wanted to start from Fort Lauderdale, but there are few places to stay there, so I used Lake Worth in West Palm Beach. There is a good anchorage there with Dinghy access to shore near many stores. It's good to be able to get to stores and restaurants when you don't know how long you will be stuck there.
At West End, they do NOT have floating docks (nor do 99% of other Bahamas marinas) and you have to be at a dock unless you anchor outside the harbor to the West. It is tricky getting to that anchorage because of the shallows, and there is no dinghy dock to give you easy access to land.
Dockage in March is $2/foot (30 foot minimum, Winter rates). I think the Summer Rate cost is $3/foot. Their web site seems to indicate that Summer rates start April 1st, but we were there on our return trip the first week in April and were still charged Winter rates.
If you dock, try to get slip N4, it's the first one on the left as you enter the marina. It is the best place for a trimaran, and seems to be one that nobody else wants. I found it best to make a U-Turn in the turning basin and back in towards N-4. I backed close to and past the dock and then pulled forward until we could get a line from the center of the float to the dock. You will need fenders that can be hung horizontally from your boat and 2 long spring lines (as long as possible, and attached as low as possible to the dock pilings because of the tide) to keep you protected from the pilings. A good size fender for an F-Boat would be a "Twin Eye" fender about 9 inches in diameter and about 25 inches long. A fender where you run a line down the middle would work, but not quite as well.
They tried to charge me $15/day for water (absurd!), but I convinced them not to charge me because I didn't have a water hose and I only used 2 gal/day. You may not have as good luck with this as I did.
West end was the only place on the trip where we had to use a dock. They don't have floating docks and the F-31 really doesn't like being up against the pilings. We were stuck there for a few days waiting out high winds. It took me a while to find a 4 line docking setup which mostly kept us from bouncing on the pilings. Not having the right kind of fender was a good part of the problem.
The marina staff leaves between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. There are flashing red and green markers at the harbor entrance. If you come in after hours, tie up along the wall on the right side near the customs building (second building on right).
ATMs are few and far between. On many of the islands, the banks are only open once a week for 4 hours.
When you get money at a bank or ATM, it will be in BSD. At the end of our trip, I asked for US dollars at a bank. I was charged and extra 1% for the US Dollars. I was happy to pay it so I didn't have any BSD upon return to the US.
There is a $3 or $4 fee for getting money at a bank or ATM. Even if your bank does not charge you these fees in the US, most will not cover it outside the US.
The only exception we found to the ATM fee was if you have a debit card from Bank of America and go to a ScotiaBank, you will not be charged a fee. The only ScotiaBank we found was in Marsh Harbor.
You will likely need to carry a lot of cash in case you can't get to a bank for several days.
Many (but not all) US credit card companies and banks charge a "Foreign Transaction Fee" on top of any other fees, even if the transaction is listed in US Dollars. As of February 2014, here is my list:
Don't Charge: Discover, Capital One, E*Trade
Do Charge: Bank of America, Chase, CitiBank
You are required to pay for a Cruising Permit upon entry to the Bahamas. It includes a fishing permit if you ask. The fee had been $150 for boats under 35 feet and $300 for larger boats. Information found on the internet says that now boats over 30 feet must pay the $300 fee. However, our 31 foot boat was only charged $150. I did not question this. Add $20 per person over three people. You need to pay the fee in cash.
The Sea of Abaco has a lot of places where even a shallow draft boat can run aground. Having good maps is an absolute requirement for navigation. We had a full large paper chart kit from 1984 which was good for the "Big Picture" and a smart phone app for the fine details.
If you have a smart phone, get the "Navionics Marine & Lakes USA" App. For
some reason it has very detailed maps of the Bahamas available. I paid $10 and then did a $4 upgrade.
I'm not sure what the upgrade did for me, but it was well worth what I paid. The route plotting feature stinks,
but everything else worked really well. The feature I really liked is that you can tell it what depth worries you
and it color codes everything based on that number.
Don't miss going to Green Turtle. It is the best place in the Bahamas. Pick up a mooring in Black Sound, they are only $10 a night. Gas dock closes early on Saturday and is closed on Sunday.
Hopetown Harbor is very small and you are not allowed to anchor. Mooring balls fill up by noon time. The system they use is you can take any mooring ball that is not marked private unless it has an empty bottle attached to it (usually marked "Reserved"). The first day we got there, no moorings available, so we anchored outside the harbor North East of the harbor entrance. It was fine based on the wind direction, but would be bad in a NW wind. In the morning, I went into the harbor in the dinghy with a reserved bottle and waited for a mooring to free up and slapped the bottle on it and then went back for the F-31. If you get a mooring owned or administered by the marina, you can use their pool and WiFi.
Don't go to Man-of War on a Sunday. Everything is closed. It is a dry island, but you can bring a bottle of wine to the dockside restaurant (not the other restaurant) and pay a corkage fee of $5.
If you can, get things setup, unlocked, tested before leaving the US. However buying a Bahamas SIM card in the US will cost a lot more.
I was happy I got a Bahamas Telecom SIM card for my cell phone. Before we left the US, I made sure my phone was compatible (most are), and unlocked (not restricted to the carrier that sold the phone). There are a few stores in major cities that claim they can unlock you cell phone (for a fee), but it is better if you can get your carrier to unlock it before you leave home.
It costs $25 for the SIM card and local number. You prepay for what you want to use. To get a SIM, you need to take the shuttle van from West End to Freeport or go to another major city that has a full service BTC office. At the BTC office they will test the phone for compatibility and install the SIM.
The BTC office in Freeport is 2 blocks from the shuttle van stop. Once you have your phone setup, you can add money online through your smart phone or any device with a web browser. I used their data service as well.
There is some, but not a lot of free WiFi around. There is a pay service called Bahamas WiMax. They were present in most of the populated harbors we stayed at. They charge $35/week or $105/month or $201 for 3 months of unlimited service. Depending on how much data you need, it may be less expensive than the BTC data plan.
If you want to be calling the US and have a smart phone, you want to use a program that will give you free calls when you have an internet connection. I used Vonage because I have an account with them. However, there are many other programs that will do this. Vonage didn't work at first on the BTC data connection, I thought they choose to block Vonage so you had to pay them for calls. So I used Vonage when I had a WiFi connection. Toward the end of our trip, I tried Vonage again with the BTC connection and it worked. I don't know if I just had bad connections when I first tried it, or if the BTC software on different islands allowed different things.
Pandora and some other phone apps know that you are not in the US and refuse to work.
Spare parts shipped over from the US to fix your boat are exempt from import duty, but I'm not sure how you make this happen.
Waiting for spare parts can take a long time, especially if you are not in a major city. It would be best if you carry spare parts with you. However, in my experience, in matter how much you carry, what you end up needing is what you don't have.
After having my water pump go on this trip, I think I will be carrying a new impeller and a set of gaskets in the future. I already carry a spare prop.
You will need a current passport to enter the Bahamas and return to the US. A US photo drivers license
is accepted as valid id at banks and other places in the Bahamas.
An interesting event took place on Green Turtle Cay where the entire island was out of gas for a week because the normal tanker boat broke down and the replacement tanker they sent was too big to enter the harbor.
The islanders took this in stride and you should too. Go with the flow and make the best of any situation.