(24⁰15.671′ N by 076⁰30.770 W - Mile 4704.54 - Compass Cay, Bahamas)
After a summer of down time away from the boat and spending the fall of 2010 in Vero Beach living on board in Loggerhead Club & Marina waiting out hurricane season, Prime Time V is back in Bahamas cruising the waters around Compass, Samson & Staniel Cays.
With over 500 days under the keel it occurs to me that either directly or indirectly we’ve talked about the weather frequently in our conversations with friends or in nearly all of the posts in this blog. In fact, weather drives our itinerary both in the long and short term and dictates when we have the opportunity to drop the anchor in a secluded cove or take cover in the shelter of a marina. Walk the dock and talk to your neighbor and immediately some reference to the atmospheric conditions and the forecast will come into the conversation.
For those of us used to cruising on the Great Lakes adjusting to the weather conditions on the Bahamas Bank takes some getting used to. Simple facts like, “good Bahamian weather comes from the east and the south” don’t mate with our experience in the north that good weather and sea conditions generally arrive with a west wind. If you are faced with a forecast for west wind in Bahamas it is a good idea to start to look for shelter with protection from the west. Unfortunately, anchorages with western protection are few and far between and when bad weather is expected, they fill up fast.
Of course, really bad weather in the Bahamas is limited to the hurricane season which officially runs from roughly the beginning of July to the end of November with the highest risk time being between August and October. While extreme wind speeds are a high risk factor storm surge really creates the biggest problem for boats seeking shelter in a marina during a hurricane. Of most concern to the captain is the boat rising with the surge and them being holed against a piling or on to a dock when the water rises or subsides. Other boats breaking free are also another major risk. Talk to every captain and they have formulated some kind of hurricane plan but, the truth is the only safe way to weather a hurricane is to avoid it if at all possible.
January to July is the peak cruising season in Bahamas. I must admit thought that during January through March there is a disproportionate number of Canadian seeking warm weather at this time. Our American cousins seem a little smarter in that they prefer April through July after the winds of the first quarter start to die down. And perhaps that is why we talk about the weather as much as we do. January through March is a time when cruisers constantly check the forecasts for changing wind, wave and atmospheric conditions. Typically, new weather patterns develop every three to five days resulting in winds that clock 360 degrees that frequently exceed 20 knots.
When you couple these weather conditions with tide changes that can run as high as 4 feet and develop tidal currents as much as 3 to 4 knots you begin to appreciate that anchoring in a crowded anchorage requires some forethought (what happens when we swing or another boat slips anchor), some understanding of the local conditions (holding & current) and with all these factors considered, “Does it make sense to stay here?”.
So, what is the best way to handle the weather conditions and live safely and comfortably? Here is a list that I have started to compile and by no means is it complete. (For those of you cruising the Bahamas, jump in and add your own comments!)
- Get a new weather forecast as frequently as possible. The weather forecast changes every day or even more frequently.
- Use multiple sources to gather weather forecast information. Weather forecasters are frequently wrong. If two or three of them have consistent forecasts the future weather conditions are more probable. (Check the weather links at the end of this blog.)
- Never trust the forecasted time of the weather change that is predicted. Weather has a mind of its own so be prepared for conditions to change earlier or later than forecast.
- A herd mentality is not a bad thing. If every one in the anchorage has left but you - check the forecast again!
- Plan to have no surprises. Check how your anchor is holding and have confidence those around you will hold as well.
- If you’re doubtful about your security at the anchorage, take a slip in a marina for the night. Slip fees are cheaper than storm damage! You will get a better nights sleep too.
The good news is that there are too many wonderful days to believe that we only have bad weather in Bahamas. Most days are glorious opportunities for warm weather and a tan.
May you have clear skies, light winds and calm seas!
Some Weather Sites For You
Here are a few of the web sites that we find useful.
- Wind Finder (A free site with seven day forecast of winds, waves and weather) - http://www.windfinder.com/
- Passage Weather (A free site with seven day forecast of winds, waves and weather) - http://www.passageweather.com/
- Chris Parker (A subscription site that is generally considered the premier forecast service in Bahamas) - http://mwxc.com/
- Buoy Weather (Free basic forecasts with subscription upgrades to PC or PDA’s) - http://buoyweather.com/
- Storm Pulse (Best site we have found for hurricane forecasting) - http://www.stormpulse.com/
- NOAA (USA Government National Weather Service site) - http://www.nws.noaa.gov/