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Weather? We Always Talk About The Weather!

Monday, January 24th, 2011

(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!)

  1. Get a new weather forecast as frequently as possible.  The weather forecast changes every day or even more frequently.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. A herd mentality is not a bad thing.  If every one in the anchorage has left but you - check the forecast again!
  5. Plan to have no surprises.  Check how your anchor is holding and have confidence those around you will hold as well.
  6. 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.

Getting Ready For Bahamas

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

(27⁰12.662′ N by 080⁰15.424 W -  Mile 3076.90 - Stuart, Florida)

Having traveled 101 days since leaving Honey Harbour in Georgian Bay we arrived at Harborage Yacht Club and Marina in Stuart, Florida on November 13th ready to relax and enjoy the club’s pool over the next five weeks and to start provisioning Prime Time V for our journey to Bahamas in the New Year.

Harborage is a new condominium project near US1 with excellent docks, power and water and a surprisingly low monthly rental rate due to a local marina dockage price war which was a great benefit to us.

Time For Some Maintenance!

Time For Some Maintenance!

It was also a great place to work on some performance issues that had been plaguing Prime Time on our journey south. The port engine was showing signs of sluggish acceleration and both engines were smoking under load. A visit by a qualified Caterpillar mechanic identified three problem areas. First, the inter coolers needed to be boiled out and pressure tested as part of routine maintenance to ensure they were not leaking. Secondly, the turbo chargers were out of spec showing signs of wear on the blade tips to the body and third, the exhaust risers were showing early signs of leakage and needed to be replaced. Annoying mechanical issues to deal with and costly but, not unexpected for high performance diesels. All the engine work was completed and a short sea trial proved all was well once again.

On our list of “Things to Do” was the addition of a reverse osmosis water maker. Water in Bahamas can cost up to $0.50 per gallon to say nothing of the inconvenience of finding a marina that has it for sail. Prime Time has 200 gallons of water storage on board and while this amount can last up to a week with conservative use with the two of us on board it can also disappear in as little as a day if we decide to wash the boat or do laundry on board. Little did we know how valuable the addition of a water maker would be until we arrived in Bahamas. It certainly proved to be a great investment for Bahamas cruising.

A Trip To The Farmers Market

A Trip To The Farmers Market

While all of this was going on the captains were constantly making daily trips to the local chandleries stocking up on replacement parts and conducting maintenance that was due or pulling the maintenance forward in anticipation of our cruise time in Bahamas.

Provisioning the boat was the focus of the chef. From previous visits to Bahamas we knew that finding specialty foods and spices, fresh fruit and vegetables and red meat would be a challenge. (Surprisingly, fish has been a challenge as well something we thought would be easy to find.)

What else should you bring to Bahamas? Here is a quick lesson in provisioning economics. A case of beer in Florida costs $16.99 per case. The same case of beer in Bahamas costs $42.00 per case. A case of Diet Coke in Florida costs $6.99 per case while the same case of Coke costs $24.00 or one dollar per can. Wine is similarly priced and far more expensive in Bahamas. Guess what was in our hold coming across?

It was a busy five weeks provisioning the boats and for the record, we never did get to the pool but, we did manage to get to the marina pub most nights to discuss what we had to do the next day in preparation for our trip to Bahamas.