Boating in The Bahamas - A (Very Recent) Insider's Guide on What to Bring
Staring out at the open sea, we monitor the changing color of the water. Each passing mile seems to bring another hue. Bright turquoise has given way to emerald to deep blue and now finally dark green. Our time in The Bahamas has come to an end. We knew this day was coming, but seeing the murkier water & busy skyline of Ft Lauderdale has made it official.
Despite my early reservations about cruising The Bahamas on this boat & living in such close quarters for so long, I am happy to say that in the end, my fears were unfounded. This adventure has been an incredible gift to our family and an experience that I know we will continue to reflect upon. We left for The Bahamas with two little boys. Four months later we are returning with spearfishing, boat driving, sea life identifying, dolphin swimming, shark chasing, conch horn blowing, knot tying sailors - with aspirations of becoming Marine Biologists and Bahamian residents. In fact, we all loved this experience so much that we have another, larger downeast boat under contract - sight unseen- so that we can keep exploring the world on the water - the next time with a bit more comfort.
Are you planning to bring your boat to The Bahamas? The Exumas will ruin every other beach you may visit or any dip in the water you may take for the rest of your life. But be sure you pack well, because once you are there, provisions can be scarce and expensive. It's hard to plan for months at a time at sea - anticipating every possible circumstance. We consider ourselves seasoned boaters. However, four months aboard has taught us a thing or two about boating in the Bahamas. Here are some ideas that go beyond the typical Bahamas cruising packing list. Make sure you click on the highlighted items to connect to the links. If you have clever thoughts and tips of your own, please comment below. If you are interested in learning more about our trip, please check out our previous posts or subscribe to follow along with future boating excursions.
CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES
- Waterproof backpack with a zipper: because everything gets wet when your car is a dinghy and I would leave things back on the boat - fearful of them getting wet, like my phone or my camera. There were so many times I kicked myself for leaving my camera behind. The dry bags that roll and snap are great, but a zipper is so much easier for getting in and out of all the time. Our buddy on SV GRINGO had this enviable backpack from a fly fishing company called fish pond. Of all the bags people carried, this one was by far our favorite.
- Multiple pairs of POLARIZED sunglasses: We lost 3 pairs on our trip. Each circumstance was more ridiculous than the one before. You would think dark glasses would be easy to spot when they drop into shallow crystal clear water... Polarized is important for reading the water and navigating around coral heads. We should have brought more. See our desperation below.
- Multiple pairs of flip flops: we lost/broke 2 pairs and one that that belonged to our friend as well. They are not as easy to get in the Bahamas as you would think. Max wore a pair that was 2 sizes too big for him the entire time.
- Hats: You will want big brimmed hats with chin straps. I used both floppy and these great stiff brimmed hats from Hemlock. The floppy were better in the dinghy as the wind didn't catch the brim and blow it off of my head. Bring a few different kinds. If you stop in Stuart, FL - Zeke's is a great surf shop with many hat styles & varieties and kids sizes too.
- SPF swimshirts with hoods: these were great in protecting necks & ears
- Variety of clothes: Soft comfortable lightweight athletic clothes & cute clothes for when you don't want to look like you live on a boat. And many styles of dresses & coverups. They are completely acceptable everywhere you go. I prefer the shorter styles, because my legs were constantly getting wet wading to or from the dinghy…
SNORKELING & SPEARFISHING:
- Wetsuits: We wore the jacket style - which was so easy to get on and off. Other useful snorkel gear we had were: gloves & weight belts. We wished we had pull on wetsuit pants. The kids & I wore this one.
- Mask: SV AUK taught us about Omer Alien masks (and all about spearfishing gear & techniques.) The Omer were so comfortable & had a great seal.
- Joy dish soap was a great defogger as was baby shampoo so as not to burn our eyes
- Non insulated Hood - the mask will pinch your hair & cause it to break in the back and at your temples. Covering your hair completely with a thin hood will remedy this.
- kids swimsuits -consider bringing a couple in a size bigger. These boys grow fast!
- Coconut oil & a wide comb to detangle longer hair after saltwater.
- Dive Bag - to store all of your dive/snorkel gear
- Short Pole Spear: for lobster
- Hawaiian Sling: for general fish species
- Dive Knife: to immobilize the fish & or lobster (the dying fish is what attracts the sharks)
- Reef Fish Book: To identify the fish you want to catch and avoid the ones that are known to carry ciguatera poison.
We had no problem with internet. This was such a worry of mine before leaving, but shouldn't have been. We bought an ALIV unlimited data plan about 30 seconds after clearing customs in Bimini. With the exception of the Raggeds and a few places near the land & sea park, we had great service for wifi calling, streaming, working, school, etc. Also consider bringing:
- wifi booster
- portable battery charger (when you want to take your mobile unit with you on land)
- a burner phone in which you can install a Bahamian sim card to make local calls.
I brought my big Nikon SLR & a variety of lenses and I am hoping to frame some big beauties when I get home…. but the camera and the lenses and constantly worrying about salt and sand was a concern and it was heavy lugging it around.. Forbes had a iphone 11 and the photos he took were hard to beat. Next time, I'll think of leaving the big stuff at home & just consider upgrading to the latest iPhone - if my photographer guilt will allow it.
- Underwater Housing: I brought an old underwater housing, then switched to a kraken, which probably would have been more amazing if I had downloaded the app before leaving the US. One day, I borrowed an Olympus Tough Tg-6 from my buddy on SV COOLSHIP and that took pretty darn good photos too.
- Drone: We brought a DJI mini drone. Highly recommended! Here's the birthday invite we sent out to our cruising buddies. This was shot entirely by our 12 year old. Of course it's a spoof on Fyre Festival. But it really was a transformative evening.
- Phone: You can call the US through wifi once you have your Bahamian internet set up. Make sure you keep your phone on Airplane mode while in the Bahamas. Otherwise your phone may pick up a nearby cell tower now & again and charge you for a 24 hour travel pass. The coverage is pretty great. We were even able to video chat.
- Shell centerpiece: you will want a good way to display all the treasures you find underwater and on the beach. There are many beautiful baskets that can be purchased along the way… I found mine at the straw market in Georgetown.
- Baskets for storing odds & ends - there is never enough space on a boat and things just pile up everywhere- hats, sunscreen, boat cards.. a nice looking basket/ container serves as the perfect junk drawer.
- Shoe Basket & Mat to leave on the dock at Marinas
- Extra sheets: early on & more than once, I stripped all 3 bunks and our 500 pillows, shoved the dirty sheets into our laundry bag, took the dinghy to town & hiked to the laundromat only to realize that the laundry was closed… spare sheets!
- Blankets: the evening temperatures varied depending on the prevailing winds. We had a down comforter which was incredible during a Northerly blow or when plugged in at a marina with the AC pumping. We used a sheet only on the warmer nights. The kids had lightweight comforters that kept them happy most nights, but I should have brought something a little warmer for them as well. Bring a variety.
- Vacuum: This was my best friend. Very powerful and small attachments for getting into tiny spaces. I'm not sure if they are still making the Dyson V7. But here is one still offered for sale.
- Different color towels for salt and freshwater- Once something gets soaked in saltwater, it never truly dries. It stays damp until it is completely rinsed in fresh and then dried. You will want to wash the salt off of your body before crawling into bed each night and you will not want to dry off with a salty towel. We would get our matching set mixed up all the time & ended up tasting towels to tell which was which before drying off..
- Silica packets: to use in your camera or computer case.
- Soft computer case: because things move around. A lot.
- Industrial strength cell phone/ iPad cases: we cracked 2 screens within the first week
- USB outlets: install as many as you can.
- Dialectic Grease: at some point you may realize that none of your phone/ computer/ ipad chargers are working. A little dialectic grease on the contacts will solve this issue.
- Obtaining a pet permit was no problem. You can contact Wellington & he will help you through the entire process.
- Grass Pads: We never did train our dog to use this & our passages were never long enough that we had a problem. Still, we were constantly looking to anchor near beaches where we could take him ashore. It was definitely a pain, but I noticed that even the boats with trained dogs had to take them ashore now and then. He was worth the extra effort though!
- Dog towel & dog grooming set, including nail clippers. Our dog showered way more than any of us. He needed his own salon. And if they are long haired, cut them as short as you dare before you come. Ours was always covered in sand spurs, pine needles, sand…
I homeschooled a 10 & 12 year old and used a combination of online options including Khan, & study.com as well as workbooks that came in handy in anchorages with spotty wifi. I also brought novels (though next time I may save space by bringing 2 kindles instead), Bahamas history books, and reef fish guides. There is a great office and school book supply store in Georgetown, right across the street from the customs office.
A good dinghy was the most important thing for me. This was our car and it needed to be as dry, safe, fast and comfortable as possible. It also provided endless entertainment and freedom for the kids. Bring/ purchase the the biggest dinghy with the most horsepower that you can manage. We had an 11' inflatable with an aluminum floor and a Honda 20 & there were days we wished it was bigger.
- A tiller extension - with choppy seas, you will want to stand to avoid the sea spray. We all preferred to stand rather than sit and ended up attaching straps so we could hang on.
- Dinghy dry bags for storage
- Dinghy anchor - 2 small 2 lb bruce anchors or a sand screw for the times when you need to med-moor.
- Beachmaster wheels - These allow you to pull your dinghy out of the surf & further up onto the shore during a beach landing.
- Dinghy depth sounder or lead line for sounding anchorages.
- Spotlight for the dinghy- a really high-powered handheld search light.
- Handheld VHF - bring a back-up.
- Reflective Tape - on the dinghy motor cowling to make yourself visible to other boaters
FOOD, DRINKS & PROVISIONING
We ate really well the entire trip. Although we had a very basic galley aboard MATINICUS, our Captain doubles as a chef and man, the dishes that Forbes could create with a tiny 2 burner stove and a microwave! Speaking of the microwave, these microwavable rice packets were our best culinary discovery. One of our favorite dinners was freshly speared (by the kids) Lobster Curry over white rice. The lobster in the Bahamas is not the same as it is in Maine. Spiny lobster is prepared a little differently. Check out his recipe:
Slow Cooked Spiny Lobster Curry
This cooking technique came from M/V HOMARUS and it is the only way we cook lobster now. Assuming you have a cleaned and deveined tail, cut the shell away from the meat using scissors or a sturdy knife. Next, cut the meat into uniform bite-sized chunks. Put butter and oil in a pan on medium low heat and slowly simmer- turning occasionally until the meat is cooked through. The meat will lose it's opacity and turn white when fully cooked. When in doubt take it out. From there, you can serve it with lemon and drawn butter or make a simple curry. Here is our one pot, eat what is about to spoil, loose rendition of lobster curry.
Sautee diced onion, garlic and bell pepper in butter or oil and add some Curry Powder. I usually add a little salt and pepper each time a new ingredient is added to the pot. When the vegetables are lightly cooked add a few peeled potatoes cut into bite sized chunks with a little salt and enough water to just cover the potatoes. I cheat and microwave the potatoes to give them a head start. (The microwave turned out to be an amazing asset on the boat and is highly recommended.) Once the potatoes are cooked through, add some more curry powder and half a can of coconut milk. Add your cooked lobster, let it meld for a few minutes, and serve. All of the ingredients are readily available in the Bahamas and will be staples onboard. We would serve ours with crushed peanuts and coconut flakes along with a few slivers of Bahamian Goat Pepper for some intense heat.
Bring as much of your favorites as you can possibly fit. Fill your freezers, store wine in your shower… it will never be as cheap or plentiful as it is before you go. We brought along this freezer and stocked it before we left. Don't forget sushi supplies & sake for when you catch Tuna and Wahoo. Also, although we loved our supplies from Sam's Club, We found it easer to store several small or regular bottles/ boxes of items rather than one enormous one.
- Freeze cheese!
- Chickpeas are not sold in The Bahamas. Though they do have hummus!
- Also, bring along items that would be fun to share with other cruisers during cocktail hour.
- Grow herbs & sprouts if you have the space like our friends on MV FRUITION & MV STELLA LUNA.
- Make bread or bring a bread maker. Though you can also buy sliced bread everywhere.
- Provisioning in the Bahamas: Nassau - if you buy fuel at the Nassau Yacht Haven Marina, there is a nice grocery store within walking distance. In Georgetown in the Exumas. you'll become very familiar with Exuma Markets. This large grocery store is right behind the public dinghy dock. Eleuthera & Long Island have good groceries as well.
- Consider a Soda Stream
- Omnia Oven: We didn't have an oven and I was able to bake bread, brownies, muffins, cookies and even 2 birthday cakes on the stove.
- Andy Boy brand Romaine lettuce lasts forever is you can keep it cool. The packaging date is usually marked on the bag with a sticker and I was often shocked to be eating crunchy fresh lettuce that was often more than a month old. We found keeping it in the bag and keeping it cool made a big difference in its shelf life aboard.
- Separate soft fruit, i.e. keep the Bananas away from other soft fruits like Avocado's pears etc. to keep them from ripening simultaneously. Keep them cold if you can.
- Canned Evaporated Milk is almost as good as the real thing when cold. Be sure to bring a container with a tight-sealing lid so you can decant the cans & store in the fridge once opened.
- Beer and Wine: you can't bring enough. IPA's are nonexistent and a case of Kalik will range from 44-74$.
- Juice: cans of orange juice turned out to be a perfect solution for our kids drink it daily for breakfast.
- Also, Restaurants! The Exumas has a handful of great options, but once you get to Georgetown and beyond, there are many choices. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Make sure you have a full set of filet knives & this book.
Be geared up for Whahoo in the early part of the season and then switch over to tuna and mahi towards the end of March. Most of the fish you catch are going to be huge. It's nice to have extra space in the freezer or a buddy boat to share it with.
The kids wanted to fish on the docks all the time. Bring extra rods and nets for them!
OTHER IMPORTANT ITEMS
- Nature's Miracle is great for pet accidents, but also turned out to be useful as a stain remover & cleaner for the head!
- VHF- Because of our short antenna height, we had issues with our range. Make sure you have properly installed, high quality VHF and 2 handhelds - for those on shore or in the dinghy. And don't forget to listen to the Cruiser's Net on Channel 68 at 8am while in Georgetown. You can can volunteer to be the Net Controller. I wish we had known this earlier as that is one job Forbes was born to do.
- Fly swatters & particularly sterno burners - really work to keep flys away
- Backups of everything
- Propane adapter: bring this to refill your smaller propane bottles for the grill.
- Anchor snubber - to take the weight off of the windlass
- Cruising Permit: Get a permit for one year! Originally we got it for 3 months only as I didn't realize I could ask for a year & the standard 3 months seemed like more than enough time. Turns out it wasn't & had to purchase an extension.
- Cash, Cash, Cash - Many places don't take credit card. The exchange rate is one to one.
- Explorer charts for your iPad - download before leaving the US. These are extremely accurate. We rode the magenta line and it was never off. We even used it cross the Devil's Backbone in Eleuthra, a notoriously difficult channel that normally requires the hiring of a pilot.
- Music/ podcasts: download many so you can listen even when wifi is spotty
- Boat cards/ Stickers: to hand out to buddies you make along the way. Include your boat name, full names, email, phone & a photo if you like. Stickers with the boat name is kinda cool too, in certain spots. In the beginning of our trip, I liked the stickers, but in some towns - Bimini in particular, they were on every surface and felt like unwanted graffiti.
And most importantly, make sure you have the right boat: Remember that in yachting, the journey is just as important as the destination. The right boat can take your trip from camping to cruising. We can help.
Launch your adventure with us.