Few cruisers come to Port Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island. White Pepper comes every season to visit Bahamian friends, Don Maples and his wife Paula von Hamm. Also we visit cruiser friends Mitch and Leslie on Absolutely who stay all season at Port Lucaya. We were pleased to see our friends Micheal and Ursula on Zeelander. Port Lucaya is only 90 miles from West Palm, FL. It has an excellent entrance in the Bell Channel and comfortable dockage now that the Grand Bahama Yacht Club has reopened. I am able to play golf with Don at his club, Fortune Hills. We cheered on Paula this year as she placed second in the Bahamas Woman's Open Golf Championship in the Senior's Division. Port Lucaya is an excellent place to spend a few weeks or months waiting as the winter cold fronts wash over the northern Bahamas.
The problem is leaving Port Lucaya. I have always said that it takes a weather window to arrive at Port Lucaya, but it takes a weather window to leave as well. Coming from Florida, crossing the Gulf Stream, obviously requires a weather window. However, leaving requires one as well. The issue is that Port Lucaya faces the Northwest Providence Channel which is a very deep 50 mile wide branch of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a body of water not to be taken lightly.
Sunset over the Grand Bahamas Banks
Typical strategies include going to Bullocks Harbor and Great Harbor Cay Marina in the Berry Island chain. White Pepper has taken this route twice with happy results. However, Great Harbor Cay Marina has become very popular nowadays after the visit by super blogger Active Captain. It is now often full and reservations are needed. Some cruisers take overnight sails to Nassau on New Providence or Spanish Wells in the Eleuthra chain.
This year White Pepper tried an innovative route. We sailed South across the Northwest Providence Channel and then down the western side of the Berries across the Grand Bahamas Banks. By this time night had fallen. We arrived at the Northwest Channel and transited it with instrument flight rules (GPS). By this time I assume that everyone knows that the Northwest Channel light is gone as are all of the navigation lights in the Bahamas. After the Northwest Channel White Pepper headed across the Tongue of the Ocean for Goulding Cay near New Providence 40 miles away. At Goulding Cay the weary sailor can stop at the West Bay anchorage. White Pepper, however, continued along the southern shore of New Providence and soon entered onto the Exuma Banks. From there it is a straight shot to Shroud Cay across the White Banks. One should honor Norman's Stake off of Norman's Cay 5 miles north of Shroud Cay. If fuel is needed as it was for White Pepper then Highboure Cay Marina is only 10 miles to the north. The total length of the route is 165 nautical miles. We took 30 hours to make the trip(mostly motoring) which included stops for fuel difficulties and some sailing. Our buddy boat, Circe, did it in 24 hours.
I have never heard of anyone making this trip before. The route solves a lot of problems while raising a few questions as well. The benefits of the trip are that it eliminates a stop at Nassau which is a good thing unless one has other pressing business in Nassau. It also eliminates a stop or two in the Berries. The Berries are great, but White Pepper has been there three times. The trip into and out of Bullock's Harbor/ Great Harbor Cay Marina requires a two hour detour. This makes it difficult to go from Bullock's to Nassau in one day. Usually another stop further south along the Eastern side of the Berry Island chain is needed. Alternatively one can stop at Great Harbor Cay (not to be confused with Great Harbor Cay Marina) or Stirrup Cay and make it to Nassau in two days, but these anchorages are exposed to the Northeast.
Another benefit of this new route is that it avoids the Yellow Banks east of New Providence with its minefield of coral heads. Rather it crosses the White Banks which is thought to be free of coral heads close to the surface. Some calculation should allow you to cross the White Banks in daylight. For example a boat that averages 6 knots will arrive at Goulding Cay at 6 am if she leaves Port Lucaya at noon.
Jan beaches dingy at Shroud Cay
The problems of this route are that it obviously involves an overnight which is often an issue for the mom and pop cruiser. However, a few naps and then an early bed time the next night should help with the sleep deprivation. Crossing the Northwest Providence Channel during the daytime is helpful since this is the main drag between Europe and Miami, the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal. There is a lot of big ship traffic in this waterway. This route calls for crossing the Northwest Channel at night which is quite busy with small boat traffic. Near New Providence there is small boat traffic even in the early morning hours so a watchful eye is required, but there is no big ship traffic. Probably the biggest potential problem that I see with this route is that after going through the Northwest Channel, one is fairly committed to crossing to New Providence. If the weather has deteriorated or the conditions are unfavorable then anchoring at Chubb Cay is a bailout position This would have to be done in the dark which requires some expertise and confidence.
The greatest benefit that I see to this route is moving from Grand Bahama Island to the Northern Exumas in one day. The alternatives are 4 or 5 day trip down the Berries with a good chance of being hung up in Nassau by weather, or a 7 to 10 day trip through Eleuthra including a jump across Exuma Sound. Of course, weather is everything. To make this trip you need 24 to 36 hours of very favorable weather. White Pepper spent several weeks in Port Lucaya leisurely waiting for the right moment. It takes a lot of time to have fun.