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Bahamas – There and Back Again – Part II

Bahamas 2020

By Paul and Sheryl Shard

FOREWORD: When we published Paul and Sheryl Shard’s story “Bahamas – There and Back Again”, we began by noting that we all need a dream! The white sand, brilliant sun and blue waters of the Caribbean are the image of paradise that many of our readers picture, but back in October, COVID-19 restrictions were just being eased. At that time, the Bahamas were opening up, yet it is just now, in late November that the Bahamian government is offering to allow tourism without the two week quarantine. As we print and mail this issue of Canadian Yachting, the winter cold and flu season is bringing a rapid escalation in cases that may result in a new round of restrictions. On the other hand a vaccine could arrive, the virus could mutate and fade away…anything could happen. Some day though, this will pass and the Bahamas will be just as beautiful as before. So, let the dream begin! Andy Adams – Editor

In Part I, Sheryl Shard ended the story at June and the start of Hurricane Season when they were once again joined by friends.

This time it was Noel and Tracey Dinan, whose new shallow-draft Allures 49.5 was in build at the time, we headed north from the Exumas across the expanse of the Great Bahama Bank, dodging coral patches as we sailed to Eleuthera then Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco. Another commercial centre in the islands, we cleared out of the Bahamas here after provisioning for our offshore passage up to the Chesapeake Bay on the US mainland and out of the Hurricane Zone until mid-November, when our yacht insurance company, Pantaenius UK, considered Hurricane Season over. Until that date we could not have the boat south of 30.5 degrees North, which is just near Jacksonville, Florida. In Annapolis, Maryland, we were well out of the zone and it was an easy 11- hour drive home back to visit family in Toronto, Canada, for the summer months while we had some warranty work completed on Distant Shores III at the Port Annapolis Marina Boat Yard.

Cold Weather DepartureJacksonville, FL – Cold weather departure in Nov. L to R: Paul Shard, Bill Traweek, Lori Traweek, Sheryl Shard, Kelly Mann, Dale Mann

By November 16 we were back onboard and raring to go back to the Bahamas after sailing down the coast to Jacksonville, Florida, where we provisioned and welcomed aboard, friends Kelly and Dale Mann and Lori and Bill Traweek, all who had sailed with us before. The weather was cold for that time of the year, but with a hearty crew and a weather window of good winds to cross the Gulf Stream further south in a couple of days, we headed off and arrived in the Northern Bahamas at West End, Grand Bahama where the Old Bahama Bay Marina and Resort was just re-opening following a devastating hit from Hurricane Dorian the previous September. After being at sea for a few nights it was nice to get ashore in such a lovely place, but the rest of the island was off-limits as it was in a state of emergency recovery still.

NassauNassau – Aquarium at Atlantis Marina Village Resort. Before flying home from Nassau, the crew enjoy the Aquarium at Atlantis Marina.

For a little background on the Bahamas, or more properly, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, this is a nation of island groups that lies in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti; northwest of the Turks and Caicos; and southeast of Florida in the United States. The Bahamas became independent from the United Kingdom on July 10, 1973, but still retains membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as monarch and having a Governor-General and Prime Minister. So, as Canadians with a similar parliamentary system, you feel pretty comfortable with how things operate here. English is the language spoken by everyone with a delightful island lilt.

The standard of living is good in the Bahamas with tourism being its top industry, so we’ve always been treated well, not with the desperation and aggressiveness we find in some of the Caribbean islands further south. The proximity of the Bahamas to the US mainland means that if you need spare parts shipped in for your boat, it’s not difficult to arrange, although for items not related to the propulsion of your boat the duty charges can be high.

George TownGeorge Town – New Years Bonfire on the Beach. A perfect night for a New Year’s Eve bonfire on Stocking Island.

In fact, costs are high in general in the Bahamas since just about everything has to be shipped in and due to the government’s decision that the citizens of the Bahamas pay no taxes on personal income, inheritance, gifts, or capital gains but instead, derive revenue from other forms of tax, including value-added tax (VAT) on goods sold, property taxes, stamp taxes, import duties and license fees. The Bahamas is an international centre for banking activities that attract foreign financial institutions because of its reputation for stability. This is reassuring.

DS III at the DockNassau – DS III at the dock, Atlantis Marina Village. The Shards’ Southerly 480, Distant Shores III, at the dock at Atlantis Marina Village and Resort.

The Bahamian dollar is pegged to the US dollar, so the exchange rate is reliable and US dollars are accepted everywhere although change is always given in Bahamian dollars. You can ask for change in US dollars so that you can then exchange it easily when you return home. You’ll need lots of cash when you’re sailing in the Bahamas Out Islands where the cruising is exceptional. Credit and debit cards are not always accepted except in larger centres and if they are, a charge of 2-3 % is added. Many businesses operate in the small communities on a cash-only basis however, there are not a lot of places to spend your money when cruising here since the attraction for sailors is the wild natural beauty of the Out and Far Out Islands. If you run low on cash out there, it could be a one-two day sail to a port where there is a bank or ATM and on many occasions, we’ve found them to be out of order. Check the cruising guides listed in the side bar for locations.

Staniel Cay Christmas Tree LightingStaniel Cay Christmas Tree Lighting – Paul and Sheryl. Every December the residents of Staniel Cay have a Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the village church by the ferry dock. Everyone is invited and there is a dinner on the pier afterwards. Names of loved ones who have passed on are placed on decorations on the tree in memory. Instead of an angel at the top, they placed a model of a traditional Bahamian sloop since a local captain had passed that year.

From West End, we made a 2 day hop to the Berry Islands where we wanted to revisit an inland blue hole and go for a swim. The blue hole is connected to the sea and is saltwater and tidal. The last time we’d visited was 30 years ago and we found it unchanged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Island - Dean's Blue HoleLong Island – Dean’s Blue Hole. Dean’s Blue Hole is a blue hole (naturally formed sink hole) located in a bay west of Clarence Town on Long Island and is the world’s second deepest with a depth of 202 metres (663 feet).

Next stop for our crew was Nassau where they were all to fly home from, but not before they got a night or two at the famous Atlantis Marina Village on Paradise Island. Passing rows of cruise ships docked in port, we entered this luxurious marina and resort with an amusement park of “Disneyesque” proportions. What a contrast to being at sea and in the remote natural beauty of the Berry Islands! But, we have to admit, the contrast was part of the appeal and it was really fun to be there. The marina is mostly home to a host of opulent mega-yachts and gleaming sport fishing boats, so we all enjoyed the “boat show” aspect of being there.

We waved farewell to our friends and began a slow journey back south to the Exuma Islands, our favourite cruising grounds for the winter months when the winds are consistently stronger and there are more frequent winter storms called “northers”, powerful fronts that roll down from the United States. But, you can easily hide from them in the numerous protected harbours and anchorages scattered all over the Bahamas; they’re merely a nuisance. The further south you go, the fewer northers make it down to you. That’s why the Exumas and other island groups further south are popular cruiser hang-outs in the wintertime. Here was where we could catch up with cruising friends in George Town for Christmas and bring in the New Year at the annual Junkanoo Parade, similar to the colourful Carnival parades held in the islands of the Caribbean.

Christmas Day Potluck on the BeachGeorge Town – Christmas Day Potluck on the beach Over 200 cruising sailors get together for a massive Christmas Potluck Dinner on the Chat ‘n Chill Beach on Stocking Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the months ahead, we would be saying goodbye to this part of the world and heading for the Pacific. It was our farewell visit to the Bahamas for some time to come – or so we thought…
– – –
Award-winning filmmakers and sailing authors, Paul and Sheryl Shard, have been cruising internationally since 1989. They are the hosts of the internationally syndicated sailing adventure TV series, “Distant Shores”, that is broadcast to 47 million households in 24 languages around the world The Distant Shores TV series which you can download through their website and the Distant Shores YouTube Channel include episodes on cruising the island groups of the Bahamas. Visit their website at www.distantshores.ca.

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