George Town, Bahamas is often called “Chicken Harbor” for good reason. Once you’ve sailed from the US to the Bahamas and enjoyed all they have to offer, a decision has to be made.
Hurricane season looms and the options for leaving a boat in the Bahamas are slim. While some choose to head back to the eastern seaboard, and fewer work their way across to Cuba and the Western Caribbean, we think we’ve decided to continue southeast to the Virgin Islands.
So we’re at a fork in the road. As it turns out, the Virgin Islands are quite a bit farther east than they seem. In a perfect world, we’d set our autopilot for the rhumb line and just head straight there. But this is sailing and there is no perfect world.
The prevailing winds in this part of the world are easterly, meaning they flow from east to west. As we’re trying to travel west to east at, say, 5 knots, a 20 knot wind feels like 25 knots on deck. 25 knots of wind on the bow is enough to slow us down from a 5-7 knot average speed to 3-5 knots.
And that doesn’t exactly factor in the waves that are pushing against us or the fact that this scenario has us motoring the entire way when we can’t carry enough fuel to get more than 3/4 of the way there.
So, assuming the prevailing easterly winds prevail, traveling the rhumb line is not really an option.
That leaves us with two choices:
1- The I-65 Route: Sail directly out into the Atlantic until we get as far east as 65 or 66 degrees of longitude. This may mean that the first several days of travel are actually to the NE so we can then tack and ride the wind south to Tortola. Estimated 900 miles, 8-10 days offshore. A few caveats: If the stars align, it is possible to ride the back of a cold front for the first few days. If you’re able to do this, the wind could be northerly for a day or two, helping you sail farther east before making the turn south when the wind turns east.
2- The Thorny Path: Shorter 1-2 day hops from the Bahamas to Turks and Caicos, then along the coast of the Dominican Republic, across to Puerto Rico, then the Spanish Virgin Islands, then the US Virgin Islands. This is probably the most popular route for the average cruiser. The idea of sailing offshore for 8-10 days nonstop can be scary, so this plan to never have more than about a 30 hour leg has it’s appeal. The issue is, for the majority of the trip you’re trying to go east, directly into the trade winds. It can take weeks to time the weather such that it isn’t a miserable bash.
Which route will we take? Honestly, it’s hard to say at this point. Depending on the day, we go back and forth between leaving for the offshore run, heading to Turks and Caicos, or even going back to Florida to spend the summer. It’s certainly easy to see why many people never make it farther than George Town.
Plans change on the daily around here, but if you ask me today, our plan for the week is to provision and fuel up as quickly as possible here in George Town. We’ll aim for Long Island or Conception Island tomorrow, hoping to reach Turks and Caicos by the weekend.
From there we’ll probably hang out a few days until, ideally, we get a weather window that allows us to head straight to Puerto Rico, about a 4 day trip. In other words, I’m not sure it’s possible, but we’re hoping for a hybrid of choices 1 & 2.