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Weather in the Bahamas is generally pleasant with only a 10-15 degree difference between average summer and winter temperatures. The water temperatures are usually
also pleasant, but the can be a bit cool for swimming or prolonged snorkeling in the winter, (mid to low 70s) especially during the passage of cold fronts. The prevailing winds
are from the southeast, but can vary a bit with the seasons and due to the influence of weather systems. Generally they are notably lighter during the summer than the winter.
Rain storms are also more frequent during the Spring and summer months. The increased rain and lighter winds can bring out the mosquitoes this time of the year, so I
frequently anchor a bit farther out in calm summer conditions. Weather systems and other regional phenomenon can greatly change the prevailing or traditional patterns. The
hurricane season officially starts June 1, but most hurricane strength cyclones tend to hit closer to the end of the season.
Cold fronts are most common from November until Spring and can bring both stronger and changing winds. What I almost always see as cold fronts come through is the
wind will begin to clock around from the southeast to the south. As the cold front gets a bit closer, the wind will continue to clock, usually quickly through the southwest, and
west, usually fairly light and then blow stronger out of the northwest as the front gets near and stay there for a while. The winds will continue to clock to the northeast and
possibly increase even more in strength as the front passes. Winds will continue to clock around to the southeast and usually moderate as the front moves on. The northeast
wind can last a while and cause "rages" at many of the passes where the deeper ocean meets the shallow banks.
The cold fronts seen in the Bahamas can vary greatly in intensity and the time it takes them to pass through, but I almost always see the same clocking of the winds
mentioned above. The winds seen with these fronts are often much less in the central or southern Bahamas than they are in the Abacos. As cold fronts approach, many
mariners stay put at anchor to wait out the stronger winds these systems usually bring. While this may not be a bad tactic, I think it pays to think cold fronts through a bit more.
One of the things I often see that creates unpleasant situations for people is they choose an anchorage to sit out a cold front based on the protection this anchorage provides
when they anchor or because it's listed as an anchorage on one of the charts. The problem is many of these anchorages provide good protection from the prevailing east or
south winds, but become exposed to cold fronts once the wind clocks around to the northwest and northeast. I always try to pick an anchorage based more on what the winds
are likely to do than what they are like when I anchor.
Another thing that has been helpful to me in my travels through the Bahamas, is to realize that cold fronts can be used to aid my travels, especially when heading south east
down many of the island chains which is often almost directly into the prevailing winds. While cold fronts often bring strong winds, they are often not all that strong and I find
running or sailing on a broad reach south with a 25-knot norther may be much easier than tacking against (or motoring against) the prevailing 15-knot southeasterly wind a
couple days later. Sometimes it pays to use a cold front instead of hide from it.
Rages generally occur on the Atlantic side of the inlets during the passage of cold fronts when the strong northeast swell enters the shallow Bahama Bank in one of the
passages. The result is is very big, steep seas that can make the passage - well not passable in those conditions. Although this can be an issue in many places, one
notable place this occurs that affects many cruisers is the Whale Cay passage in the Abacos. A long sandy shoal extending from the Treasure Cay peninsula out to Whale
Cay means most moderate to deep draft boats must exit the Sea of Abaco and pass on the ocean side of Whale Cay. A rage can shut this passage down for days. One way I
often work with this weather when heading south is to time a passage south through here with the final day(s) of a northwest wind before it turns northeast creating rage
conditions. I then usually still have a few days of northeast and east wind to continue south perhaps to Little Harbour. If I'm heading back to Marsh Harbour (when chartering
for example), I can then ride the east to southeast wind back.
For those who are used to sailing, especially chartering in other locations such as the Caribbean, the shallow water sailing of the Bahamas can be a bit intimidating at first.
Compared to deeper water cruising areas, knowing the affects and timing of tides can have a big impact on where you can go and when you can go there. There are many
bay entrances that most cruising boats can only enter near high tide and many passages that similarly may be too shallow at low tide. In the Abacos for example, both sounds
on Green Turtle, the Lubbers Quarter Pass and the entrance to Little Harbour are too shallow for most monohull cruising sailboats to clear at low tide or even mid tide.
Whenever cutting it close, try to enter shallow water on a rising tide, so if you do get grounded the incoming tide will hopefully help you out. Knowing where you are in the tide
cycle is also key to estimating the depth at low water which can be a key factor in many of the anchorages.
Tide charts are available online and in some of the cruising guides. High and low tide times are often given on many weather forecasts as well and can now many GPS units
can also be used to gather such information. If you are unable to obtain accurate tidal information for any given day, it's easy to approximate. Each day has approximately two
high tides and two low tides I say approximately because, it actually takes the moon closer to 24 hours, 50 minutes to circle the earth. This means any given tide will be seen
approximately 50 minutes later the following day. This also means, when one sees high, high tide, at noon, one can expect to experience the next low tide about 6 hours and
12 minutes later or at about 6:12 pm, and low high water about 12 hours and 25 minutes after HHW or about 12:25 am, that night.
I find knowing where I am in the tide cycle is very useful to anchoring. First of all when anchoring in shallow water, the tidal range between high and low water can be notable
in terms of scope. If I anchor in 5 feet of water at low tide, it may be over 8.5 feet at high tide. Another way I often use the tidal information is to figure out how much water I'm
likely to be in at low tide. For example, if I work my way into a shallow bay at LLW, I know I won't experience lower water for at least a day, so I can anchor with little water under
the keel, confident that I won't bottom out. If it's HLW, I need to consult the tide table to see how much lower LLW will be. In a similar fashion, as long as I know where I am in
the tides and know the tidal range for that day, I can predict fairly accurately how much less water there will be during the lowest tide I'll experience while at anchor.
Another affect of tides is to cause currents across the shallow banks and in the cuts. When sailing, one needs to be aware this can be pushing a boat sideways, perhaps out
of a channel. This is one reason, many prefer to skip the Indian Cay Passage near West End and head further north to Memory Rock. I should also point out that tides don't
flow evenly through out at tide cycle, but instead slow down as high or low tide approaches and will have a time of little water movement called slack tide at each tidal extreme.
This of course, presents another strategy for the cruising sailor. If entering the Indian Cay Passage for example, just before high tide, one will have almost maximum depth,
minimal current, and still see a bit of a rise, if one gets grounded. When anchored out on the bank, a changing tide or increasing velocity in the tide can swing a boat
sideways to the wind and waves causing a very rolly night. In a cut, this changing current can cause a boat to swing in an arc of 180 degrees. Many mariners use two
anchors off the bow in such situations (Bahamian moor) to reduce this swing.
Sources of weather forecasts.
NOAA radio: Broadcast from Florida, these forecasts are regular and can sometimes be picked up in the near islands such as the Bimini group or West end. Often people
in other areas of the Bahamas will repeat these forecasts. I've heard the NOAA forecasts repeated in Nassau and the northern Exumas. Usually the further SE down the
Bahama chain one is, the longer weather systems will take to reach you compared to the area covered in NOAA report. I often find this translates to half a day in the southern
Abacos and a day in the Exumas, but this will vary depending on the speed of the system. Cold fronts generally bring lighter winds then the reports indicate as one moves
farther south as well.
Abacos Cruisers Net: The Abaocs Cruisers Net gives local broadcasts each morning on VHF 68 at 8:15 a.m. as well as repeating the NOAA forecast. Their local weather
can also been found on barmoeterbob.com I find I can usually pick up the net transmissions fairly clearly as far north as Green Turtle but rarely make them out up at
Powell. Your own results may vary.
Chris Parker is known to give great forecast information. His times and broadcast channels can be found at his site here: http://www.caribwx.com/ssb.html
www.barometerbob.com A focus on the Abacos and passage information.
www.windguru.com has a page for Nassau. I've found their forecasts for both the Bahamas and Caribbean to be very accurate.
http://www.passageweather.com/ has up to date maps of wind, current and sea temperatures across a broad region.
WIFI access can be very limited in many of the island groups. I've found an Iphone, blackberry, or cellular card greatly extends the range at which one can receive web
|As with all my pages, this page is simply my experience relating to weather and tides in the Bahamas. Rely on it at your own risk!
|Bahamas: a mariner's view
Images and information about the Bahamas from a mariner's perspective
All photos by Dave Zeiss