By Paul Graham

There are two ways to transit the Whale.  You can go around the east side of Whale Cay or you can go though the Whale using the Don’t Rock Passage. The one thing “you must have” before coming to Abaco, Bahamas is the “Guide to Abaco Bahamas” by Steve Dodge. Steve Dodge has excellent directions for going around the Whale, so this article will focus on the Don’t Rock Passage (DRP). In this article, the guide is referred to as SDCG (Steve Dodge’s Cruising Guide).

It is important for you to know that either of the Whale Cay Passages can be more dangerous and has caused more deaths/accidents than all other areas in The Bahamas combined.


On the other hand it’s just like going through Hell’s Gate in New York at slack tide.

A non-event. But just like Hell’s Gate the Whale (either the outside route or the DRP route) must be approached with the same planning.

Over time, 20 mph winds from the North, Northeast or East can produce swells that make the Whale dangerous. Once the winds have been blowing for a day or two from any of those directions and then abate, it can still take a day or so for the wave action to settle. This is called a “Rage”. From a distance, using binoculars, a Rage looks like elephants dancing on the horizon.  A Rage is not a good time to cross the Whale – either passage, east or DRP.

In the winter season 75% of the time the wind and waves are favorable to go around the east side of Whale Cay as shown on page 68 in SDCG. Also in the winter season, 80 % of the time conditions are favorable to transit DRP which is also located on page 68 of the SDCG.

Once you have determined favorable weather conditions for the DRP Whale Cay Passage, the next step is to check the tides (2009 page 202 SDCG). For 2010 tides you will need a 2010 SDCG.

Special Note: We cannot stress enough that you CAN RELY on the SDCG for tide information; but not always from other sources. Earlier this year, we heard an employee of a marina giving the incorrect tide information for a different inlet (not Whale Cay). The tide information given was almost reversed hi and low, and ultimately caused a boat to go AGROUND for 10 hours with extensive damage to the boat.

Normally we (GH37 Odyssey) are comfortable transiting the DRP up to 3 hours before or 3 hours after high tide. Using this guide, we have never seen less than 3 feet under our boat.  The very best time to transit the DRP is on a rising tide about an hour before high tide which allow for boats with 5-6 ft drafts transit then. Note: If conditions are less than favorable this becomes even more important. However, on a calm day it doesn’t matter, it can even be low tide.

Traveling south, you will arrive at WHLSW way point. From this way point, you will have a visual on the Sand Bank Cay (page 68), but if you want a way point to go to I recommend WHLDR1 (Whale Don’t Rock 1) at 26 41.670N and 077 15.714 W which puts you at the passages North entrance with the Sand Bank Cay on your starboard.

At this point you will also have a visual on Don’t Rock. If you want a way point to go to I use WHLDR2 at 26 41.098 N and 077 14.850 W which take you right to the Don’t Rock’s rock. You can transit either side of the rock. We have transited the East side more often than the West side but have transited both sides comfortably.  Keep in mind that:

  • You can go safely to the East of DRP route even a hundred plus yards. The bottom is only sand.
  • Be careful not to drift to the West as it shallows up quickly.
  • Great Harbour Trawler auto pilots do not like shallow water so I usually end up hand steering at some point.
  • DRP is shorter and usually a lot smoother.

Crossing the Gulf stream to the Bahamas

By Wilma Thornton

 A special thanks to Sue Graham, a long time Bahamas Cruiser and Judy Koetitz our Newsletter Coordinator for their assistance in creating this article.

Before making any Ocean crossing, make sure you have proper charts for navigation, a yellow quarantine flag, and the proper country flag to which you will be visiting. This article’s main purpose is to assist boaters in preparation for their crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

Are you getting ready to cross to the Bahamas?

(Suggestion: Create a folder for all for the following things).

1. Passports:  Make sure they are current and they will not expire before your return.  Keep a copy of the photo page in a separate location.

2. Boat Documentation, State Registration, and Dinghy Registration:   Make copies and place in folder.

3. US Customs Decal: For re-entry into the USA. Decals should be purchased for the year that you plan to return to the USA. So if you go over in November 2009 and return in January 2010 – make sure the decal is for 2010. Several GH owners place their original decals on their pilot house window. The US Customs Decal website address:

Call the customs office for questions                (317) 298-1245

4. You may want to join the Local Boater Option, which would allow you to phone in and clear customs upon returning to the states, saving the cost of a marina to park the boat while finding the nearest on-land facility to present yourselves. This service is part of the US Customs and Border Protection Offices.

Contact: CBP Public Affairs         (813) 348-1700         x2233 for details.

5. PETS:  Apply for a pet application by calling (242) 325-7502 or 7509.

Keep a copy of your Pet’s approved application from the Bahamas in your folder. The fee for bringing in pets this year was $10 per pet.  Allow 4-6 weeks to receive your approved form. Your Veterinarian will need to complete the simple health certificate sent to you by the Bahamas animal control.

6. Cash: According to your budget plans.  Keep in mind that many of the small stores only take cash.  When you are allowed to use your credit card, some of the stores attach a fee of $2-3 for convenience fees. Bahamas Boater Cruising Permit Fee is $300 cash which should be added to your folder, making the folder now ready for “the crossing”.

7. Fishing Permits: If you are interested in pole fishing, hunting lobsters, collecting conch, cast netting for bait, or spear fishing, you must say so when you clear customs and get it written on your cruising permit.)

8. GUNS: You are allowed to take them and they must be declared when you get your Bahamas Cruising Permit.  They must be kept in a locked box with an exact count of ammunition.

9. Provisioning: Food – there’s plenty of it in the Bahamas, it’s just more expensive. There are three food stores currently available in Marsh Harbour. They are Abaco Wholesale, Price Right, and Skaggs. Maxwell’s Grocery burned down last year, but is in the process of rebuilding. Maxwell’s most likely will be ready in winter 2009.  It’s a large grocery store.

Usually breads, dairy and fruits come in early in the week and the shelves are fairly well stocked otherwise. The prices here are estimated and could be higher or lower depending on which store you buy them. Some examples: Butter is $4.59 lb, Bread is $2.29 a loaf, Ice Cream is about $10 1/2 gallon, Beer – $40 a 24 pack, 24pack of A&W Rootbeer is $13-$17 depending on where you buy it.

Paper products are very expensive in the Bahamas, plus they are bulky for transporting from the store to the boat by walking or biking.  Stock and store as much as you can before making the crossing.  You can always walk to the store and take a taxi back to the boat with your purchases. Cleaning and waxing products for boats are very expensive.  Some boaters take advantage of the local laborers to have their boats washed and waxed, but the products are not included.

10. Medications: For an extended stay you will also need to order and receive all of your medications.

11. Fuel: The USA is less expensive so fill up the fuel tanks before leaving.  Don’t forget fuel for the Dinghy.

12. Telephone Service: Verizon Wireless has a plan where you can place your cell phones on hold for 3 months with a minimum charge of $15 per phone. Other phone companies may have similar offers – check them out. Skype is another option (computer to computer phone service) no charge so download from and there is also an option of a Skype land line (USA phone number from any state you want to pick) that your friends or family can call which comes into your Bahamas based computer. Setting up the USA based phone number is approximately $10.  After that the only charge is whatever it would normally cost your friends or family to call that number.  Calling from the Bahamas to the USA via Skype runs only 2 cents a minute.

13. Tourist Season/Guide Books: Winter is off season for Abaco and many marinas have special off season rates. The rates increase considerably in season.  The Cruising Guide to Abaco, Bahamas by Steve Dodge contains much more information.

14. General Information (Yacht Club & Resort): 

Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club (RMHYC)

Web Address:

As a member of the RMHYC, there are special rates available to you at Abaco Beach Resort’s Boat Harbour.  For the Winter Season 2008-2009, there were 68 boats taking advantage of the RMHYC special rates in Boat Harbour.  Two GHTA officers are also officers of the RMHYC and will happily help answer any questions you may have regarding RMHYC.  Contact:

  • Sue Graham, GHTA Secretary & RMHYC Social Director


  • Wilma Thornton, GHTA VP and Membership Director & RMHYC Secretary


Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour, Marsh Harbour, Bahamas 

(ABR & BH)

Web Address:

The resort is located on the North edge of Marsh Harbour.  It has a large swimming pool with a swim up bar, the hotel has an additional swimming pool, condominiums and guest cottages, a private beach, tennis courts, volley ball court, the activities hut has loaner kayaks, snorkel gear and games also available.  Boat Harbour has 7 docks including two fuel docks.  The RMHYC uses the 5,000 sq. ft. Marquis Tent for its monthly parties. Abaco Beach Resort also provides free (with a deposit) use of beach towels. These towels can be used as bath towels and can be exchanged as often as you like saving on laundry.  In addition, the Resort has a nice restaurant and bar open 7 days a week 3 meals a day.

Marsh Harbour is easily accessible by walking, biking, scooter, taxi or rental car.

NOTE:  Boat Harbour has extremely clean restrooms with full shower facilities nearby and many boaters use them regularly to cut down on toilet paper needs, water usage fees and the need to take the boat out for discharging waste.

LoQueSeA Crossing to Abaco

byJudy Koetitz

We were going across from Lake Worth in West Palm Beach, Florida to West End in the Bahamas, a trip of 60 miles that would take our slow-moving trawler about 10 hours. Our track would be almost a straight shot across, and therefore we would be bucking a 3 to 5 knots beam current for part of the trip.

Having an easy exit becomes the first rule of crossing. The access to the ocean at Lake Worth is very well marked, and straightforward, and since we travel at only 6 knots, we would need to leave in the dark of the morning to make landfall in daylight over there.

The second and most important rule is picking a good weather window. One in which winds do not come from any direction with an “N” in it. This “north factor” can make the opposing wind and waves in the Gulf Stream downright dangerous. Some captains wait several weeks for good weather to cross.

We had been paying attention to passing fronts for weeks as we traveled south on the ICW toward Lake Worth, our crossing point. We arrived at the anchorage on Thanksgiving Day and rafted off our buddy boat Puffin. We shared a traditional dinner, giving ample thanks for all things that got us to this point, with a little special emphasis on good weather for tomorrow, our crossing day. Before an early bedtime, we stowed anything that even looked like it could fall. We put extra padding around the TV and retired secure in the fact that we were ready.

We headed out the inlet at 4am. It was pitch dark, no moon. The only things visible in the instance were the white lights of the three boats that had headed out just before us. It was comforting to know that we were not alone, and we felt a calming effect just from listening to their VHF radio chatter about conditions out there. Judy stayed out on the bow until we were well away from the breakwaters and into the open ocean. Just a couple of extra eyes to help see in the pre-dawn darkness.

The weather was just as predicted. Winds were less than 5kts and waves pretty much non-existent, just some 2 to 3 ft gentle rollers. Even so, we were very glad to see the brilliant orange sky light up to the east. Sunrise on the open ocean was spectacular and we had the calm seas to really enjoy it.

The further out we traveled the “flatter” the water became. It was like being on a huge lake, no visible land in sight, with only the chatter of about 15 other like-destined boaters periodically breaking the silence of the VHF.

Captain Gene made periodic corrections for the current, and the chart plotter kept us headed pot-on to our waypoint in West End. He even got to relax a little on the bow while the autopilot did the work. Even though the day was perfect, NOAA was predicting series of fairly potent cold fronts coming from the south. So rather than clearing customs and moving on, we decided that ld Bahamas Bay Marina in West End good place to snug down until the front passed.

Another rule we follow—always decide on the side of conservatism when going to places you have never been before. We were very glad that we did. Even though the crossing was uneventful, the next 5 days brought gale force winds and rainsqualls. We watched several fronts pass from the comfort of a nice protected slip with a view of the waters of the Little Bahamas Bank thinking back on the crossing we concluded that even though we had prepared well, we could not discount the favor of the “weather gods” and we were thankful.

Finally the weather cleared, the winds laid down and we headed out for Marsh Harbor, Abaco our final winter destination. The Abacos are the chain of islands north and east of Nassau, so we still had a trip of 100 miles across the Beautiful “Bahamas Bank”, the shallow area of water round the islands of the Bahamas.

It took us two days, anchoring each evening near small islands, in water so clear that even though it was 15 feet deep, we could follow our anchor chain all the way back to where the anchor had dug in.

We timed our passage through “The Whale” –a treacherous piece of water that protects the Sea of Abaco from the Atlantic, perfectly, and coasted right into Marsh Harbor. Fellow members of The Royal Marsh Harbor Yacht Club and the GHTA were there to grab our lines and in no time we were snuggled into slip #418, our home for the next 4 months.

Okeechobee Crossing

By Judy Koetitz

 We were headed south to the Keys for the winter when we got the call. “We’ve bought the boat,” Deb said, almost like she couldn’t really believe the fact that she and Henry had actually done it. Three years ago, they had joined my husband, Gene, and I on the first leg of our maiden voyage as full-time cruisers north on the ICW. We had just retired and were taking our new boat/home up to the Chesapeake. They kept telling us, jokingly, that we were their “heroes,” and someday they were going to do the same thing. Well, I thought, looks like the first part of that “someday” was here.

     They had found a terrific deal on a boat like ours—but a little bigger—and they decided she was just too good to pass up, even though they were, realistically, a couple of years from the full-time cruising thing. By Christmas, the deal was done, and the good news was they were now owners of a 47-foot, shallow-draft trawler located on the west coast of Florida. The bad news was they had just a week’s vacation to get her to the east coast of Florida, the first leg of the journey to her new home in Baltimore, Maryland—and could we help them? Absolutely!
Again, the good news was there is a “short-cut” across Florida called the Okeechobee Waterway, which cuts right through the heart of Florida’s still pristine and undeveloped mid-section. The bad news, again, was that because of the severe drought that had plagued the state for the last two years, the depths on the Okeechobee Waterway were at all-time lows, with some areas reporting shallow spots of no more than 4.25 feet. Their boat draws 3.6 feet, so if we picked that route there was not going to be a lot of wiggle room.
The alternative was to bring the boat south, down the west coast of Florida almost to Marathon, before heading north. By using the Okeechobee we could save many miles, gallons of diesel, and several weeks of precious vacation time that would be needed later to get the boat on up to Baltimore.
Henry had done his homework and checked with the marinas along the waterway, the Corps of Engineers (who runs the locks), and other cruisers who had recently made the crossing. The consensus was that, yes, we could make it if we took it slow and only traveled in calm seas. We all decided it was a go!


Henry and Debbie, along with Deb’s sister Cindy, Gene, and I would bring their new boat, Seven Tenths, a Great Harbour 47 that Henry had hardly driven, across a waterway that was historically shallow and that none of us had ever transited before. Sounds like an adventure to me!

We left Burnt Store Marina in Port Charlotte at first light. Henry turned the boat on a dime, using the bow and stern thrusters and we snaked our way out of the marina and into open water.
Our first obstacle was a thick blanket of morning fog engulfing Charlotte Harbor. Henry activated the radar and, it, along with the rising sun, made fog a non-issue in short order.
Since the water levels were so low on the Okeechobee, the first western lock coming into the waterway was only opening twice a day. I calculated that we could make the only afternoon opening at 3 p.m. if we hurried. This meant running the small Yanmar turbo-diesels wide open, which would give us about 10–11mph. It also gave us an awesome dolphin show as five of them cavorted in the boat’s bow wake, jumping high out of the water and racing alongside us for over 15 minutes. NOAA was also warning of an approaching cold front with gale force winds predicted. We had to cross tomorrow or we would lose our weather window. So we put the “pedal to the metal” and arrived just in time for the afternoon lock opening.
Once in the waterway canal we pushed on until sunset. We tied to a dock attached to a small motel in the little burg of La Belle. No power, but we were at Mile Marker 103, putting us in a good position to cross the 30 miles of open water tomorrow. The day had been near perfect with calm winds and bright sunshine, but the coming weather was on all of our minds.
Again the next morning we were off the dock just before sunrise. We watched as it came up over the canal, a beautiful red sunrise, and we remembered the old sailor’s lament: “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.”
The waterway to and from Lake Okeechobee itself is a coffee-colored, fairly straight ditch. Depths were good as long as we stayed in the middle. It is sparsely populated by humans, but abundant in wildlife. Alligators sleepily sun themselves on the shallow shores and Great Blue Herons stand quietly waiting for breakfast to appear. We remarked that the water was so opaque that everything seemed to be mirrored. The pictures we took gave us pause when we tried to figure out just which way was up.
As we neared Clewiston, we watched the smoke rise from the cane fields and several air boats disappear into the swamps of the lake.

Our first real trouble spot on the crossing was the channel leading from Clewiston into the main body of Lake Okeechobee. We were told to go slow and keep a watchful eye on the depth finder. We heeded that warning and although we passed places where the depth finder read less than 2 feet under the boat, we never felt a bump or touch.
We passed a catamaran that had just come from the other side of the lake. Half a mile from the end of the shallowest part, they had run aground. We felt their pain but could do nothing to help them, considering the narrowness of the channel and the 4-feet-deep water. Slowly and carefully we inched past them. As we looked back, we were happy to see they had maneuvered enough to find deep water and were again back in the channel. In ten minutes they were home free—we hoped we would be as lucky.
For having three chatty women on board the day was unusually quiet. Everyone’s eyes were continually drawn like a magnet to the depth finder. Several times it went blank and everyone seemed to wince in unison as we waited for the telltale “thump.” Blessed silence! So far luck and the Water Gods were with us. The next area of concern was Rocky Reef.
The lake channel parallels a long section of very shallow water where the rocks are just below the surface. All that shows are tufts of grasses and little pockets of sand here and there. In the middle of this nothingness when all we could see in any direction was water and the little tufts of green sticking up, we had to make a hard left and cross a barely submerged reef, being very, very careful to honor all the marks and not turn too soon. Again we had several places with readings of less than 2 feet, but not a touch did we feel.
We breathed a sigh of relief as we hit the “deeper” water of the middle of the lake—deep being a relative term. The depths were a consistent 6 feet under the boat for the next 10 miles. We were almost giddy! We could actually see the Power Plant on the far shore. We lined up its towers and “gunned” her to 8mph. One more trouble spot to go.
The water at the entrance channel to the Port Mayaca Lock was reported to be some of the shallowest on the waterway. Indeed, we lost our depth reading in a couple of places, but again felt no bumps. The gates to the lock were open on both sides and we sailed through, being careful to avoid the charted rock just outside the channel.


We had done it! It was New Year’s Eve and we had successfully transited the shallow waters of Lake Okeechobee. That evening as we docked in Indiantown Marina we were so emotionally drained that we declined a most generous invitation to join in the marina’s New Year’s Eve festivities. We made it until midnight—barely—and wished each other Happy 2008 with a toast of Champagne brought along for the occasion. Then we all hit the sack. We still had a storm coming and miles to go.
For the third morning in a row we were up and off at “O dark thirty.” We had reservations at a marina in Stuart about 30 miles and one lock away. This lock, the St. Lucie, was also on restricted schedule and we wanted to make sure we were there for the morning locking at 10 a.m. The storm clouds were gathering on the horizon and our Weather Worx showed rain bands closing in. Waiting for the lock we were joined by three other boats. Locking through together we remarked that this was the most traffic we had seen since entering the waterway three days ago. They were all locals, as the eastern shores of the waterway were now well populated, unlike the rugged alligator country on the west side.
We descended the 15 feet and exited the lock, traveling at slow speeds because of the heavy manatee concentration in the area. The day had become overcast, but the rain so far had held off, and we were easily able to find safe haven at our marina.
We were almost euphoric. We had done it! We had made it across a very shallow Okeechobee, without so much as a touch! Our final destination up the Indian River to Melbourne was an easy day and a half away. We were golden!
Even the forecasted weather had held off—but not for long. Over the next three days as we waited out the 40-knot winds and 29-degree temperatures, snug in the marina, we thanked the heavens over and over that we were able to squeeze through that weather window and “get ‘er done”!


This story was originally posted on the Passagemaker web site. 

Judy and her husband Gene were born and raised in Montana. Gene’s job brought them to Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay area where they discovered the fun of boating.
When they became empty nesters Gene sold Judy on the idea of full-time cruising. Now she loves it as much as he does. She began writing to share their experiences with friends and family in her logs of Lo Que Se A, the name of their 37-foot Great Harbour trawler, (which means “Whatever” in Spanish)
In the 4 years aboard Lo Que Se A they have logged nearly 17,000 miles with trips from Florida to Maine as well as completion of America’s Great Loop. This year (2008) they will winter in the Bahamas and are looking forward to cruising the Down East Loop next year.