The Bahamas have many anchorages that are not good for all-around weather protection. Many are downright roadstead-y. Generally, our 6'2" keel resulted in The Fox anchoring a bit further offshore (thus less weather-protected) than other, shoal-draft boats. However, we could anchor in most if not all of the top cruiser destinations. We just had to pay a bit closer attention to weather changes, and tides. If you happen to be in the area and have even a 7-foot draft, the Bahamas are doable for you and worth a visit.
This post describes where we anchored our 6'2"-draft Fox, and the points where close attention must be paid. If you've already bought the Exploer series of chartbooks, it will be easier to follow our path...
A word about tides: if I understand correctly, all Bahamas tide tables are based on the tides at Nassau -- but tide times in many places vary widely from Nassau's. As but one example, our favorite island, Eleuthera, is not very far from Nassau but has tides that run about 2-3 hours later - a very important fact when entering and leaving the cuts in the reefs. Exactly how late the tides run, depends upon how the wind is blowing on any given day. We discovered on both our winter trips to the Bahamas that regardless of most winds, Eleuthera's tides lagged about 2-1/4 hours later than Nassau's whether we were on the northern half of the island or the southern half. If you have a deep draft boat or are traveling cuts in reefs, you will want to be very sure of which way the water under your keel is flowing.
Anyway, in late November 2011 we left Lake Worth Inlet/Palm Beach, Florida, and crossed generally ESE to wind up 58.25 hours and 265.82 miles later at Rock Sound on Eleuthera Island, Bahamas. Our travel time included having to slow down and wait for the tides to change for a safe transit through the reefs of Fleeming Channel on Eleuthera Island's SW side.
From Rock Sound we sailed SW from Eleuthera Island to the Exuma chain, stopping at Warderick Wells, Big Majors Spot (Staniel Cay), Black Point Settlement (Great Guana Cay), Little Bay (Great Guana Cay), Bay Rush Bay (Great Guana Cay), Big Galliot Cay, and the southernmost point of our route, Georgetown (Great Exuma Island) - 143 miles total distance, spread over 17 days of snorkeling, seashelling and general whatnot.
From Georgetown we looped east and then back north, visiting Conception Island; New Bight, Fernandez Bay and Orange Creek (Cat Island), West Bay (Little San Salvador Island); and Rock Sound, Ten Bay, Alabaster Bay and Hatchet Bay (Eleuthera Island). 242 miles total distance, covered in day trips totaling 31 days underway and at anchor.
All the above anchorages have plenty of depth for our 6'2" keel, but deep draft boats like ours should travel the approaches to Rock Sound (Eleuthera) and Georgetown (Great Exuma) at no less than 1 hour before or after high tide. In Rock Sound, especially, you're still likely to see no more than 2 feet under your keel at high tide on the approach (it's adequately deep in the anchorage in front of the town). The locals are hoping for Nassau to budget a dredging of their approach channel soon - it's so shallow now in 2014 that only shallow-draft supply boats can make it in and out. It's been a while since the deeper-draft high-speed passenger ferry to Nassau has been able to get reach Rock Sound, which no doubt has affected the businesses hereabouts.
We've found that three of the above anchorages, Hatchet Bay (Eleuthera), Rock Sound (Eleuthera) and Georgetown (Great Exuma) have the best all-around winter weather protection, but none of them are hurricane holes. Most of the others we visited are fine in light weather or settled weather from the NE and/or SE, but none of them would be comfortable or safe if strong wind came from a westerly direction. Plan accordingly.
Here's our Bahamas float plan for 2014:
Left Lake Worth Inlet/Palm Beach, Florida, on January 13, 2014, and crossed SE-ESE past Great Isaac Rock, over the Grand Bahamas Banks, and aimed again for Eleuthera Island. Transited Fleeming Channel at 0300 without incident - but I would never suggest a night transit of any reef unless (1) the reef is wide like Fleeming, (2) you've done it before in daylight, (3) you laid down your track on your chart plotter, and (4) you had the same calm weather conditions we had. Once through the channel we aimed for Hatchet Bay in Eleuthera's northern half, arriving 48 hours exaclty after our departure from Florida; 222.27 total miles.
From Hatchet Bay we sailed to Eleuthera Island's Alabaster Bay once again, then to Governor's Harbour and Rock Sound. The flabby concept that we have for the rest of our Bahamas adventure is to move SE along the Exuma chain. We will likely stop again in our 4 favorite anchorages there: Warderick Wells, Big Majors Spot, Black Point and Little Bay, before positioning ourselves in Georgetown (Great Exuma Island) to wait for a good, long weather window in late March/early April. Our goal this year is to leave the Bahamas and cross the Caribbean directly to Panama via the Windward Passage.
After Georgetown, we're leaving open the possibility of exploring a few new-to-us anchorages on our way out of the Bahamas. Rum Cay, perhaps, if the weather is calm? Clarence Town on the SE end of Long Island, almost certainly? Long Cay in the Crooked/Acklins group? We shall see what's in the cards....