By Winslow Taylor
The Bahamas are a boater’s paradise, full of diverse opportunity for recreation — much more, in fact, than many people realize. If you are an InTheBite subscriber, chances are when folks say “I’m headed to the Bahamas for vacation” and that is followed up with plans to go to Nassau or Atlantis, you are going to roll your eyes. There is nothing wrong with Nassau, it’s a fun spot.
The Atlantis makes a delicious $35 coffee/bagel combo and it’s a good fuel stop on the way to elsewhere. These popular “mainstream” destinations hardly convey the real Bahamian experience. When it comes to the Bahamas, one of the coolest experiences is one of the simplest: leaving the United States, crossing the gulf stream, and seeing the clear blue water on the banks as the depth goes from the thousands to the teens.
Having your own boat in the Bahamas, whether it’s a 150-foot yacht or a 23-foot center console, gives you a sense of freedom and flexibility that is unmatched in any other boating destination. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but the fishing from the flats to the deep is superb, with different species to target year-round depending on the island(s).
Exact trip planning depends on the vessel, itinerary, and person count (things that are different for everybody), but generally speaking, it’s important to properly plan out the logistics and provisions. The major islands, and even Marsh Harbour, have grocery stores that rival those in US, but the off-the-beaten-path islands require more planning.
Furthermore, US beer is expensive, so if you enjoy a cold domestic you should provision accordingly!
Although there are two seasons in Florida (1) hot and humid as hell and (2) a little less hot and humid, the Bahamas can be a four-season, year-round destination with different islands and fisheries best showcased in the different seasons. Although I spent a few months in the Abacos shagging grass, island hopping, and watching the wind blow, I have spoken with some well-traveled professionals for their take on where to go and what to do/target throughout the year.
The following provides some off the beaten path Bahamas perspective that might be of use in your next trip to the islands. The information is broken down by season and destination. With apologies to the many activities and locations left out, here is a breakdown of the seasons of the Bahamas.
Cat Island is 130 miles southeast of Nassau and 300 miles from Fort Lauderdale. Cat Island is home to Hawk’s Nest Resort and Marina on its southwestern tip. The island boasts lodging, a protected marina, and an airstrip. One of the best attributes of Cat Island is the ability to fish in the lee whichever direction the wind decides to blow. The winter wahoo fishing is phenomenal and blue marlin are no stranger to the spread.
Cat Island is definitely a destination where you need to properly provision and don’t forget to bring some bikes for local transportation. Coupled with the phenomenal fishery, diving, and true Bahamian experience, Cat Island and Hawk’s Nest Rest & Marina should be on your winter to-do list!
In the Berry Islands and close to Chub Cay is Great Harbour. The fishing from Great Harbour is similar to Chubb (30 miles to “The Pocket”), but Great Harbour is a more economical location to keep your boat. Talking with Capt. Ben Brownlee, who has spent many seasons throughout the area, he explains that from Great Harbour you can fish right in front for wahoo, the deep dropping for snapper and grouper is insane, and there are always some marlin around.
Also, with the right wind, you can hit up The Pocket. Great Harbour is the largest island in the Berry’s and provides more opportunities for small boats to explore and cruise. While you’re there make sure to go to Flo’s restaurant and cliff jump into the blue hole!
San Salvador is very much off the beaten path, but it’s famous for the massive wahoo captured there every winter. Many world records have come from its depths and it’s not uncommon to see fish in excess of 80-100 pounds. Mixed in with the big wahoo are the occasional yellowfin and marlins. Although the island is rustic, there is commercial air service, which makes traveling and keeping your boat there a breeze.
Not only is the fishing excellent, but San Salvador’s history is unique as it is believed to be the first land Christopher Columbus visited in 1492.
Also in the Berry Islands, Chubb Cay is a year-round destination with an impressive fishery from the flats to the deep. It is definitely a first-class destination and conveniently located approximately 30 nm from Nassau, 75 nm from Bimini, and 125 nm from Fort Lauderdale. Access to the pocket is closer than Great Harbour and it’s the place to be on an east-southeast wind. Ben reports that double-digit marlin bites are not uncommon and you have a decent shot at slamming out when the water is right!
Personally, I think the Abaco Islands are one of the coolest destinations for fishheads and cruisers alike. It’s also a great “intro” area into cruising the Bahamas. You can leave Florida in the morning and be checked in and fishing by lunchtime, weather permitting of course. There is no shortage of great marinas and accommodations, with each island offering its own unique character.
There are two airports offering commercial flights from the mainland (Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay), with Marsh Harbour even having direct flights from Atlanta and Charlotte. Marsh Harbour is great, not only because of the travel options, but it’s also easy to stay well provisioned. Marsh Harbour has a Maxwell’s Supermarket which has everything you would find in the US.
In the spring there is no shortage of gaffers and the blue marlin really start showing up in April, you can’t go wrong trolling off the lighthouse, and your never far from a quick run in for lunch. One of my favorite activities is conching in the Sea of Abaco. Just get some snorkel gear, tie a line behind your boat, and get dragged through the water looking for conch on the bottom. Once you see one (or more), release from the line, dive, capture, and repeat.
Eleuthera – Cape Eleuthera
Pete Zabinski has been traveling the Bahamas since he was a kid, and one of his favorite spots is Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina on the western tip of Eleuthera. Cape Eleuthera has a great marina with equally amazing accommodations. Not only that it’s only 50 nm to Nassau if you need to pick up/drop off folks, and there are two airports with commercial service on the islands.
Eleuthera offers a true Bahamian feel, and no visit to Eleuthera would be complete without visiting glass window bridge. The marlin fishing gets firing in the spring, and it’s a good jumping off place to the Exumas and the Abacos.
Clarence Town – Long Island
Clarence Town is another one of Pete’s favorite locations. If you are in the Exumas, you might as well keep heading southeast to Long Island, which is another true Bahamian out island. Clarence Town is the capital, and another amazing destination for pelagics as well as bonefish on the flats. Flying Fish Marina is the place to be, and no trip to Long Island is complete without checking out Dean’s Blue Hole.
It’d be easy to write a whole book on what to do in the Exumas. It’s an amazing archipelago that is easily accessible by air from the mainland, but also by boat from Florida. If you want to get away from a 100% fishing oriented trip and explore, then the Exumas are the place to be. You can island hop every few days and check out everything each island has to offer. From the “natural aquarium” at Staniel to the sharks on the dock and the bubble bath at Compass Cay.
It truly is one of the coolest places in the Bahamas. There are some great accommodations on the main island, but if possible, try to branch out to the various islands. Offshore, bone fishing, diving, golf, doing absolutely nothing…Exumas is top of the list!
Andros – Fresh Creek
Andros is the largest and least explored island in the Bahamas. It sits on the edge of the third-longest barrier reef in the world and is a short 20 nm run west from Nassau and about 100 nm from Bimini. Andros, with its expansive flats has phenomenal bonefishing and the barrier reef with its numerous blue holes, lends itself to some amazing diving.
Again, talking with Pete, he emphasized that Andros, specifically Fresh Creek is “Old Bahamas,” where the tourist factor is nearly zero. You can grab your gear, rent a car, and explore the island or use your boat to check out the endless shoreline. Summertime lends itself to meat and marlin fishing, and it’s a short hop from Florida that lets you skip the craziness of Bimini.
West End is an awesome, low-key destination that is a stone’s throw from Florida. At only 55 nm from Palm Beach, you can pretty much head over for lunch. Hell, in North Carolina we run that distance just about every time we go offshore. Old Bahamas Bay has a first-class marina and great accommodations to keep the entire family busy. As a side note, the runway at West End is recently opened so you can there in about 10 minutes from the mainland.
There is decent snorkeling just outside the marina, and the beach at the resort is protected so it’s perfect for kids. Just down the road Blue Marlin Cove and Bootle Bay offer more fishing-oriented accommodations, with great marinas. From West End, it’s a quick run-up to Mantilla Shoals (“The Corner”) where you can catch anything from limits of tuna to marlin!
West End also makes a good jumping off point to the upper Abacos which has some unparalleled diving and spearfishing opportunities.
At 45 nm from Florida, Bimini is another great short trip. Although in summer Bimini can seem like Miami/Ft. Lauderdale 2.0, in the fall the crowds thin and it’s a great destination to get away for a long weekend. Although not prime fishing season due to the warm water temps, Bimini has awesome snorkeling, spearfishing, reef fishing, and bonefishing.
If you want the party scene you can hit up the casino at Resort World. Resort World also happens to be a Hilton Property, so if you have Hilton points you can score some free rooms. There is a huge casino as well as all the usual accoutrements. If you want a laid-back spot check out Bimini Sands on South Bimini, it has a great marina and a more traditional Bahamian vibe.
Make sure to check out the SS Sapona for a cool snorkeling spot, and if you’re going to head offshore you can make the short 20 mile run up to Isaac Cay where the tuna show up. There is no question Bimini is a great spot to enjoy a long weekend in the islands!
It’s easy to give Nassau a hard time, but there is no denying it’s convenient, nice, and plenty of fun. Barring a hurricane, fall is my favorite time in the Bahamas, it’s warm, it’s not too crowded, and usually the wind isn’t horrible. Nassau gets a bad rap for being overpriced, but there are many ways to keep the cost down. If gambling is your (or your friends’) thing, it’s not difficult to get a comped room at the Atlantis or the Baha Mar.
The Baha Mar is nice and willing to give some deals to try to lure some of the Atlantis’s clientele over. Nassau has some great marinas (Bay Street, Atlantis, Hurricane Hole, and Lyford) and it’s an easy jumping off point to Andros, Chubb, Eleuthera, and Exuma. Also, there are plenty of islands between Nassau and Spanish to cruise and enjoy. If you’re looking for a fun Conclusion: Now you have read some of our recommendations, all you need is a chartbook, some fuel and you can go find your own favorite spot. That’s the beauty of the Bahamas.
It’s close enough to be accessible, but far enough away to truly get away from it all…if you want to!
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.