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.

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.