TRANSITING THE WHALE via DON’T ROCK PASSAGE

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.

THAT GOT YOUR ATTENTION DIDN’T IT?

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:  https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/

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 www.skype.com 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:  www.rmhyc.com

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

Email: trawler37@aol.com

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

Email: wilma.thornton@gmail.com

Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour, Marsh Harbour, Bahamas 

(ABR & BH)

Web Address: www.abacobeachresort.com

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

Abaco
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.