Crossing the Bahamas Banks

The Great Bahama Bank

We left Bimini Harbor by 9:00 and happily raised our rainbow spinnaker on a broad reach to the north. Aaaaah, crystal clear blue waters, lovely sailing, and fresh breezes. Why did we take so long to get over here?
Our basic goal in coming to the Bahamas has been going to the Exumas Land and Sea park. We have completed the first leg of the journey, which got us into Bahamian waters, but now we have another LONG leg to go to get closer the Exumas. We have to cross the Great Bahama Banks, a shallow area of about 20 feet deep for 60 miles. In that space there are no islands, no markers, no nothing. Actually, there is a few major markers on the charts — One is for Mackie Shoal. On the chart it looks like it should be a major marker, with a blinking light, or at least visible for a good distance. When we finally reached it, we found that it was nothing more than a small pole sticking out of the water a few feet. There is another point on the chart called “Northwest Channel Light”. This is the point where boats decide where they are going after crossing the banks — down to Nassau, up to the Berry Islands, etc. It is the major intersection of this great expanse. Well, there is no light there, it was also little more than a stick in the water, barely visible until you were practically on top of it. We had heard a lot about navigational aids being poor or non-existent in the Bahamas, but come on — all the boats pay a fee of either $150 or $300 to come cruising here and they can’t afford a single light to mark a major shoal???

Wee Happy dodging a squall on the GReat Bahamas Banks

Anyway, back to sailing. We tried to sail for a long time with our beautiful spinnaker, and it was great while it lasted. But a front was approaching and the winds started picking up, so we decided to take down the spinnaker and motor sail with our jib to try to beat the squall before it came our way. We managed to skirt the storm, and then the winds died down and became “light and variable”. Our options at that point were to anchor out there in the middle of nowhere and wait for wind, or motor across the Banks. The winds were forcast to shift to the East and strengthen, so we decided to motor across in the dead calm now rather than try to fight east winds on the nose later.

We hadn’t actually decided where we were going yet. Or options included the northern part of the Berry Islands, Andros, or towards New Providence Island where we could jump off to the Exumas. After much consideration of where the wind might blow us the best, we decided to keep with our original plan of heading straight to the Exumas. Our friends Sara and Trevor are in the Exumas and we are hoping to catch up with them. If we dallied around the Berrys or Andros, we would probably never find them. It was fun for awhile, entertaining the idea that we could just end up at whatever island the wind blew us to, the only problem is that either there was no wind or the wind was coming from the direction we wanted to go…..such is the life of “sailors”.

By 5:30 the winds started blowing out of the east–right on our nose. Knowing that it would only pick up from there, we decided we’d better book it all the way across the banks now rather than later. Heading east across the bank in a strong head wind means lots of CHOP. So we found an anchorage on the map just a few miles from the Northwest Channel “Light” and got ready for another six hours before we could stop the boat.

Sunset while crossing the Banks

It wasn’t bad though. It was the night of the full moon. The sun set at 7:30 and the moon rose at 7:30 too. So we were graced with a stunning sunset in the west and anticipation of a full moon rise in the east. By the time the moon was high overhead, Dolphins came to swim with our boat–dancing back and forth underneath the bow in the moonlight. the air was warm, and we saw a few other boats pass in the night. It was amazing to be in just 15 feet of water with no land anywhere in sight for hour after hour after hour. It was truly eerie.

Full Moon Rising on the Banks

After midnight we were exhausted. We’d gotten up at 06:30, so it had been a long day. We made it just northeast of the Northwast Shoal marker which actually doesn’t exist. It’s now just a GPS cooardinate on the chart of where a marker used to be. Regardless, we anchored a mile northeast of it which would keep us safely out of the channel but close enough where tomorrow we could get right back on our route.

A while after we stopped and settled into being still the cats came out of hiding and explored the deck of the boat. Mojo meowed the most mournful cry that seemed to say “HELLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO???????” “Is ANNNNYYYYYoOOOOONNNEEEEE OOOUUUUUUTTTTTT TTHHHHHHHEEEEERRREEEE???????” We could tell he was thinking “where the hell are we? what the F…?”

so we rigged up a cob-jobb of a laser pointer with some old AA batteries and some wire and tape. That did the trick of pulling them out of their comas. they had been sleeping since Florida, you know! Theyy just love the little red dot from the laser pointer. We roughed them up a little, and then they got into a wrestling match with eachother which worked out some of their latent agression.

We on the other hand, left on every light that we have on the outside of the boat, set the anchor alarm for 400 feet and set the wake up alarm for 06:15 and then passed out sharing our bed in the v-berth with the dinghy’s outboard motor. Sweet. Our first threesome.

It was almost unreal to be on the ocean in 15 feet of water under a full moon with the water as smooth as a calm lake but translucent enough to see the bottom by the moonlight. What a weather window we had to get across the banks. It could only have been improved if we’d been able to sail the whole way rathern than having to motor half way. It’s good that we did though, because the next morning the winds would be out of the southeast and stronger…on the nose again, of course.

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4 thoughts on “Crossing the Bahamas Banks

  1. Pam

    The pictures are wonderful! You two are so braveeeee. I am not sure that I could do what your doing. I am so glad that the sailing is good and that you are all safe. My prayer for you is not only good sailing weather, safety, protection and abundant blessings to come your way when you least expect them.
    I love your adventures. I check every morning to see if you have left a new blog and what you have been up to.
    Sharing a bed with a motor, that has to be a first. The cats sound like they are real sailors too. How do you keep them from jumping off the boat? Gotta run
    Have a great Easter! Stay safe and get some rest.

    1. wh-admin Post author

      Thanks Pam! We are protected and cared for and thankful for everything. The cats just don’t like the water, so they stay aboard, although we do realize that losing one is a possibility. Just like losing a cat on land to a speeding car on the road out front. You just pray it doesn’t happen.

      Happy Easter to you!


    At least when you are in Florida bay going from Marathon to the Glades the water is so dark you cant see the 10 foot bottom. Must be a little stressful with those dark spots passing underneath and looking sooooooo shalloooooowwww.

    Hopefully you find Eärendil in the vast archipelago. Remember if you skate the edge of one of those squalls you wash the boat and can catch some water. Take your time enjoy paradise!


    1. wh-admin Post author

      Hi Wes! YEs, we just finally succeeded at spear fishing yeterday. We’ll post a story about it soon. The spear is awesome! Thanks so much! What a blast!


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