When people ask me to name my favorite charter destination, my answer is always the Sea of Abaco, in the Bahamas, in the off-season—in fact, smack-dab in the middle of hurricane season.
This, of course, is completely contrary to conventional wisdom, owing to the area’s seasonal weather trends. In fact, so inadvisable is it to go sailing there in late August (when my family and I did) that you just miss the month of September, when the place shuts down completely until the onset of winter.
That said, it’s important to remember that every charter carries with it an element of risk, especially when it comes to the weather. Plenty of sailors have had a Bahamas or Caribbean charter go bad in the middle of high season because of sail-shredding Christmas winds or just plain cold air temperatures. My family and I may have been lucky, but we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
First the down side: the summertime Bahamas have a reputation for being hot, windless and squally. Then there are those pesky hurricanes. In fact, we found ourselves monitoring a distant hurricane by the name of Isaac during the last couple of days of our trip. In neither case, though, did these seasonal conditions impact us negatively.
While the winds were indeed light, they never fell entirely calm, and for much of the trip we experienced a very pleasant 10 to 15 knots. As for the squalls, again, we might have just been lucky, but they were fairly mild, with light rain, a touch of thunder and winds gusting briefly into the mid-20s.
In fact, the billowing cumulus that kept us on the lookout for actual anvil clouds gave us a break from the admittedly intense sun. Strange as it may sound, I actually came to find the little squalls we experienced to be quite charming.
As for hurricanes, while it certainly felt a little strange knowing there was a big storm spinning around out there it never impacted us personally. I’d take the threat of a distant hurricane over the “rages” that regularly turn the passages leading to and from the open Atlantic into wintertime wave-tossed death traps any day.
Which brings us to the benefits of off-season chartering in the Sea of Abaco: in a word, solitude. This is a world-renowned cruising ground, replete with cute-as-a-button anchorages and gin-clear waters, all only a short run away for the tens of thousands of powerboaters inhabiting South Florida, and yet we had the place to ourselves.
Whether it was brightly painted Nipper’s restaurant on Great Guana Cay, Man of Way Cay, Hope Town with its famed candy-stripe lighthouse or Marsh Harbour itself—where the area’s charter companies, including Dream Yacht Charter (dreamyachtcharter.com) Sunsail (sunsail.com) and The Moorings (moorings.com) are based—we were the only ones there. Dozens of empty moorings and powerboat dry-storage racks served as mute testament to the crowds that flock to this area in the high season (not to mention the power cruisers endlessly churning their way back and forth out on sea of Abaco itself). But in late August, the place exhibits the same sleepy, sun-drenched feeling that attracted those first pioneering cruisers who paved the way for the rest of us.
Obviously, if you’re the kind of sailor who likes having hordes of revelers to party with ashore, then it definitely ain’t the time of year for you. But if you’re the type who yearns for the good-old days before today’s most popular spots became overrun with tourists, this just may be the sailing experience for you. No matter what kind of sailor you are, if you like having endless beaches and crystal-clear water all to yourself, the Sea of Abaco in any season is hard to beat.
In the wake of Antigua Sailing Week and the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, the month of May is a fine time to sail around the coast of this beautiful island and its close neighbor, Barbuda. Horizon Yacht Charters is making the prospect even more alluring by offering 10 nights on a bareboat for the price of seven. horizonyachtcharters.com
The final round of the National Offshore One Design (NOOD) championship will be held on identical Sunsail Jeanneau 46 bareboats in the British Virgin Islands from October 22-29; the winners of each preceding round get to take part, but the regatta is open to other crews too. There’s a 20 percent discount on charter rates. sunsail.com
Southwest Florida Yacht Charters is offering discounts for early summer bookings out of its Tarpon Point Marina, Cape Coral base—for charters of three days or longer you get 5 percent off in June, 10 percent in July, 12 percent in August and 15 percent in September. With a deal like that, who doesn’t want to go sailing? swfyachts.com