Getting there is half the fun

Getting there is half the fun
Brief swim breaks will keep you cool during the long journey
Brief swim breaks will keep you cool during the long journey

Brief swim breaks will keep you cool during the long journey

By Nathan & Ted Miller

Experiencing a boat crossing from the east coast of Florida to the Bahamas can be a lot of fun. There is something magical about a family vacation in a tropical destination, and running the ocean to get there.

Over the years I have heard great stories shared by my wife of the crossings she experienced earlier in her life.
Her family began making crossings when she was around the age of 10 and continued through high school and well into her college years. Her family shared this passion with another family, and they traveled together many times through the years. Some crossings were made in their sports fisherman, while others on a sail boat. Either way, the memories and experiences shared by these friends and family members created lifelong memories and many great stories along the way.

One story she recently shared was about a time they were in route to the Abacos. This particular trip they were traveling by sail boat. The two families left out of Jacksonville and were well into the several hundred mile trip to Hopetown. As the evening went on and the kids went to bed, the parents stayed up to navigate and look out for ships passing in the international waters. My wife, who was 10 at the time, remembers it being very rough and windy.

At some point well into the night, the dinghy they were pulling became untied and floated off. Time had passed before anyone noticed it was gone. Once it went missing, they were determined to find it.

My wife remembers waking up to loud fathers pulling out charts, listening to the weather channel and discussing tides and currents.
Once they determined the projected location, they turned around and went to go find it…in the middle of the ocean.
Miraculously, it was right where they thought it would be.

Making the 200 mile run to the Abacos from the central east coast of Florida can be a lot of fun. On a calm day, the first leg (a 60-mile run to West End) can be achieved in just over an hour. Once through customs, the remaining 140 miles can be spent island hoping and with brief swim breaks to cool off. Make sure you watch the time. You want to be pulling into your destination with plenty of daylight to spare.
Technology has changed a lot over the years. Crossings many years ago were performed with compasses and headings. Understanding tides and currents was also important. Today, we have GPS and chart plotters on high definition monitors that show your ships exact location which overlays on an image of a map.

There are many safety devices one should plan to take for a crossing.
First items are signal flares. Boats that are a certain length are required to carry flares anyway. But it is important to keep in mind signal flares have an expiration date. This date should be checked before you leave and new ones should be purchased if your current ones have expired.

Carrying an extra portable hand held VHF and GPS is also a good idea. In the event of a power loss (along with your ability to use the ships electronics), the portable VHF will help you radio for help and the GPS will allow you to give your location.
Traveling many miles from land means that an effective use of flairs and radio communication through with a VHF radio may not be possible. This is when Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are critical.
Both devises use satellites to transmit your distress signal. Once activated, the satellites will send your distress call to the coast guard, giving your exact location. Both devises offer built-in GPS for accuracy, but they do have some differences.
EPIRBs (though NOAA) are registered to your vessel. In the event your EPIRB is activated and the distress signal is received, the coast guard will know the make and description of the vessel they are looking for. EPIRBs can be manually activated with a push of a button or automatically activated within a few seconds of becoming in contact with water.

Either way, a distress signal can be sent very quickly for satellites to pick up and transmit your location.
PLBs, on the other hand, are registered to an individual, not the vessel. However, the distress signal works the same way as the EPIRBs. Some people prefer the portability of a PLB over an EPIRB. PLBs are smaller and since they are registered to you and not your vessel, you can carry with you on other vessels or use while enjoying other outdoor activities like camping or hiking.

The battery life of a PLB once activated (24 – 36 hours) is slightly less than that of an EPIRB (up to 48 hours), so some people prefer the longer life of an EPIRB. Both antennas need a clear line of sight to the sky to ensure a clear transmission. EPIRBs will keep afloat, enabling the antenna to point upward continually. PLBs will need to be positioned or held with the antenna upright. Either way, carrying a device that is monitored by satellites is a wise decision.

It is important to know the details of the devices if you are looking to purchase one. Some PLBs do not have a built in GPS feature. These units are slightly less expensive than the GPS models and also slightly less accurate with our exact location. They will still have an accuracy of several hundred feet, which is still effective being many miles from land. But the GPS devices will have an accuracy of several feet.
Inflatable rafts are certainly a good idea as well. These are pricy, staring around $1,000.00. Along with the initial shock of the purchase, these devices have mandatory schedules of inspection and recertification (every one to three years, depending on the manufacture) which will also run several hundred dollars each time. This does get expensive but certainly well worth it in the event you have to ditch.

Speaking of ditching, a ‘ditch bag’ is a must. A ‘ditch bag’ is a bag that is easily accessible and allows you to carry very important items in one place. You never know when or how quickly you may have to depart your vessel. The less you have to think about the better.

Ditch bags are designed to store the following items:
• Flair kit
• Hand held GPS
• Hand held VHF
• Extra lithium batteries
• Flashlight
• Strobe lights (attachable to your life vest)
• PLB or EPIRB
• Sun screen
• Motion sickness medication
• First aid kit
• Drinking water

Carrying extra mechanical supplies with you can also be a good idea. Extra propellers prop nuts and washers, prop wrench, fuel filters and engine oil are all great to have with you. These supplies may become very important in the event you need them while you are crossing. Once safely in the Bahamas, finding boat parts on land may be difficult as well.

Filing a boat plan with others is important. Giving information like your departure port, time of departure, arrival port and estimated time of arrival is always a good idea.  Inform them you will check in via email or phone call by a certain time and this will ensure someone will know quickly if you don’t arrive. The departure and arrival port information will also give the coast guard a projected route which could help narrow in on our location.

Many Bahamian islands have fresh water restrictions. Water is available at marinas but you have to purchase. For example, water in the Abacos can be purchased for around $.50 per gallon. Have a plan to effectively and efficiently wash your vessel if needed.
Also, ice can be very expensive. It was recently recommended by a fried to take six half-gallon milk jugs full of water and freeze before your crossing. You can re-freeze as needed over there which can drastically cut down on the amount of ice you have to purchase.
Meat and poultry can be hard to find on some Bahamian islands and expensive when you do. Taking a good cooler packed with your food and ice (along with your homemade ice packs) is a great way to insure the quality of your food and your meals stay at a reasonable price.
One of the first things I hear when people discuss crossing to the Bahamas is “there is safety in numbers.” Travel with a group if at all possible. It will be a lot more fun.
More importantly, it will be safer!

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