A Guide to Sailing in the Bahamas

 Exuma Island is part of the Cays Land and Sea Park
Exuma Island is part of the Cays Land and Sea Park | © Danita Delimont / Alamy
Photo of Damien Gabet
26 November 2021

And the best beaches in the world award goes to… If there’s one reason folks flock to the Bahamas it might just be that. Particularly as only 30 of its 700 islands are inhabited. Indeed, you won’t struggle to find a paradise anchorage with no one else in view. The tricky bit is knowing where to sail next. Turtle-loving divers might ask their charter captains where the vast protected marine parks are. Socialites, meanwhile, will thirst for the nightlife of bohemian resort towns like Alice Town on North Bimini. Something for everyone? Well, there’s no skiing…

What to see and do

The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is one of those places only sailors ever experience. Protected since 1958, it spans 112,640 acres (45,584ha) of land and sea, with seven safe and secluded mooring areas. From there, explore sugary beaches and healthy coral teeming with green turtles rays and reef fish. Or perhaps head onto Stroud or Halls Pond Cay. Here, you’ll spot royal terns, green herons, white-tail tropicbirds and other rare and beautiful birds.

Elbow Cay in The Abacos is a dreamy place to anchor. 10km (6mi) of clear water east of Great Abaco, its broad peaceful anchorage leads to the colourful timber cottages of car-free Hope Town. Photo ops abound, from the candy-striped lighthouse at the harbour’s mouth to its dusting of talc-white beaches. There’s some next-level snorkelling around effulgent eastern reefs, too.

Get to Harbour Island, aka Briland, for its charismatic collage of pink-sand beaches, inviting pastel cottages and fun beach bars.

Boats in the harbour at Elbow Cay | © Jane Sweeney / Alamy

Best mooring locations

Nassau Yacht Haven Marina is in the centre of the historic Bahamian capital. Berthing 135 boats up to 60m long and drawing over 5m (16ft), it meets the needs of two-man catamarans and superyachts alike. Monitoring VHF channel 16, it offers shops and services from a chandlery to boat refurbishment, groceries, electronics, bars and restaurants.

You’ll find tranquility in Mangrove Cay on Andros – a calm anchorage leading to a Caribbean pine forest, blue holes’(mesmeric underwater caverns), mangroves and miles of pure, pink sand.

The blissful anchorage at New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay in The Abacos lets you find the perfect place to swim with these charismatic shellbacks.

A view of New Plymouth harbour on Green Turtle Cay | © Richard Ellis / Alamy

Where to eat and drink

Lobster, grouper and tuna. They’re always fresh, usually grilled and served with green salad plus rice and peas. You’ll find souse just about everywhere – a soupy stew of chicken, sheep’s head or other meats. Conch is king: these giant sea snails are best chopped into a salad with habanero chillies, lime, onion and other fresh ingredients.

Finally, don’t miss the chance to eat and party with the locals at Nassau’s Fish Fry, a row of bars and restaurants serving rum punch and conch salad Friday to Saturday nights.

Da fish fry, one of Nassau’s most famous seafood restaurants and bars | © Jane Sweeney / Alamy

Best charter options

With the best of the Bahamas largely inaccessible to those without their own hull, you’ll get so much more from a bareboat or captained yacht. SamBoat offers charters and abundant local knowledge in the area. Create your own itinerary and plunge into extra activities such as kayaking, diving and fishing. Alternatively, book a skippered or fully crewed boat with Dream Yacht Charter to explore the Exumas and Abaco in style, a great option for novices.

Where to get groceries

Your mooring at Nassau Yacht Haven is so central that stocking up couldn’t be simpler. Step off the marina itself to nab yourself a better deal on essentials. Solomon’s Fresh Market and Super Value Food Store are just two of several seven-day supermarkets within 10 minutes’ walk.

Key annual sailing events

The National Family Island Regatta has been a Bahamian sailing fixture since 1954. Conceived to keep native boat-building and sailing traditions alive, it’s now a lively annual festival. Held in Elizabeth Harbour off Great Exuma in the last week of April, it attracts hundreds of locally made boats.

Competitors in the 53rd Family Island Regatta Sailing Competition | © steve bly / Alamy

Climate and weather

The trade winds blow over the Bahamas throughout the year, filling sails and cooling brows. From December to February, you’ll find daily averages at their lowest, between 21C and 24C, while 27C to 29C is common in the months between March and November. Hurricane season runs from the beginning of June to the end of November, though most storms running up the North Atlantic’s Hurricane Alley miss the islands.

How to get there

Lynden Pindling International Airport near the capital Nassau (on New Providence Island) is the natural entry point to the Bahamas. From there, it’s always a short taxi ride to SamBoat’s charters in Nassau. Or you may want to fly domestically to your chosen port with Sky Bahamas or Bahama Go.

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