Getting to the Bahamas fom Key West

For the past 3 months or so, Lisa and I have advertized that we are in imminent “danger” of heading to the Bahamas. This tends to peak at the end of every month. We have, however, kept suffering all kinds of setbacks: the engine raw water cooling system on Pearl glitched; the dinghy started coming unglued; we needed to install davits; we were missing parts; the list goes on.

At this point, both Lisa and I have given up on “trying” to leave. Perhaps we will just … leave.

For those of you who are interested, we are considering three different “landfalls” in the Bahamas, and there are a couple of different ways to handle the trip. There is an added question of where to check in and clear customs, etc. More on that later.

Option #1 (Green): “Landfall at South Riding Rock, check in at Chub Key in the Berry Islands. This is the most aggressive approach to getting to the Bahamas, but also likely the fastest. The idea here is that one heads more or less due East out of Key West, catch the Gulf Stream off Sombrero Key Light, and ride the gulf stream all the way, get on the Bahama Bank at South Riding Rock. We’d spend the night anchored in the middle of nowhere on the Bank, and then head for Chub Key in the Berry Island Group to check in. This would be 18 – 24 hours to make landfall on the bank, and then another 10 to 16 hours to get to the Berrys depending on the current on  the bank.

There are a number of people who’ve recommended this option to us, and it’s a popular route with lots of traffic (particularly on the Bahama bank). The great thing about this option is that it’s two days (roughly) to get to the crusing grounds. The downside is that if we read the weather wrong, we’re pretty exposed.

Option #2 (Red-Pink-Cyan-Orange): “Hop up the Hawk Channel to Marathon and Key Largo/Rodriguez Key, making landfall and check in in at Bimini. This option takes the longest time and is the most conservative way to make the trip. It also gives us the option of joining up with other boats making the crossing, which given our lack of experience with the Bahamas would be welcome company. This option would still require us to spend a night on the Bank getting to the Berrys, but the pace we’d be at gives us many more “fall back” options.

Option #3 (Yellow-Orange): Catch the gulf stream off of the Sombrero Key Light to Cat Cay (or Bimini), and stage there for a banks crossing. This option has the benefit of using the Gulf Stream current as it rips though the Florida Straights to accelerate our passage up the Florida Keys and onto the Bahama Bank. It also allows us to to rest up at a secure location at the end of a long transit. The time frame for this trip is the same as option #1, with the difference is that the first night stopped would be at a marina rather than on the hook, and during the first two thirds of the trip we can duck back into the Hawk Channel if necessary.

We are still figuring out which option to take, but will most likely take the third option. If you’ve done this trip, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions!

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