Bare Boating: Winter Escape in the Islands

2602-23The red nail polish on my toes still sparkled from the glitter that had fallen off my dress the night before. My bare feet dangled off the side of the 42-foot French Jeanneau sailboat as we made our way to the Out Islands of the Bahamas. We would spend a week or maybe an eternity on the azure waters of the Caribbean charting a course for distant shores barely visible on the nautical map. We were barefooted and bare boating as we escaped the winter doldrums in search of coconut trees in the morning breeze.

Bare boating in the Bahamas is a freeing experience where time disappears between the glorious sunsets and sunrises on the horizon. The freedom to choose to either drop anchor in a remote cove or let the sails fill full with warm wisps of air as dolphins swim nearby is the beauty of being your own captain.

There were six of us on board this expansive sailboat, fully equipped with a stocked galley and a master bedroom in the aft cabin separated by a glistening teak deck that lead to the second set of double bunk sleepers. There were two heads, one with a huge shower and powder room set-up. This French vessel had a BBQ pit, a bimini top for sunning, and a dinghy for trips to explore the shores. We were living high on the paradise seas.

The secret to bare boating is to make certain you have a very skilled captain in your crew who can navigate the charts, has many hours of sailing under their belt, and if at all possible, some mechanical knowledge about repairing engines if something happens when you least expect it.

2The charter boat companies that specialize in bare boating are insistent on allowing only the truly seasoned sailors to take their boats to sea. Storms can come up pretty quickly in this part of the world, and it takes a knowledgeable captain to handle the rough seas if and when this occurs. Two to three hours of sailing instruction are given by the charter companies to each bare boat captain before a voyage.

In our case, my friend’s father was at the helm, and he knew a great deal about boats since he had owned several and even participated in races down in Brazil. However, if you are not so fortunate to have a skipper in your traveling crew, do not opt for bare boating as your method of travel. There are plenty of excellent charter boats to choose from with topnotch captains onboard and a hospitable crew. Although more expensive than bare boating, when you charter a boat with a captain all your worries are put to rest.

We had set sail for the Abacos, a group of islands that formed a boomerang shape on the map. It is considered the “Sailing Capital of the World” due to its calm waters, excellent breezes, and hospitable harbors. Bare boating explorers prefer the Abacos to the nearby Exumas, Berry, and New Province Islands for its reputation for easy sailing and colorful villages. The candy cane striped lighthouse on the tip of Marsh Harbor serves as a welcome beacon as you near its shores.

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Some of the world’s most stunning beaches can be found in the Out Islands in the Bahamas where the coral reefs are resplendent with iridescent fish and underwater creatures. The water is so clear here that it lures you into its bath-like temperatures without any fear of any underwater predators.

During our week of bliss we took turns making homemade bread for breakfast and preparing evening feasts with local delicacies. At night we would anchor in a protected indentation on the inner shore and dingy over to meet other seafaring travelers to share stories about our discoveries. The gentle swaying of the boat rocked us to sleep each night.

An inspirational way to begin the morning is to dive off the side of the boat into the magical waters and swim to shore. With my bare feet sinking into the sugar-like sand, I enjoyed exploring the edges of the jungles where colorful birds flew from the trees. Although I tried to climb a coconut tree, I must say I do not recommend this sport despite its temptation. There are plenty of coconuts to be found on the ground that are ripe and ready for drinking and eating.

The best snorkeling in the Out Islands is at Sandy Cay where we marveled at an endless spread of starfish floating in the calm waters. Conch shells, sea urchins, and driftwood lined the shores. The coral reefs below were cavernous crystals of fantasy mango, shimmering pearl, and deep rose. I could almost hear the sounds of the famous Disney tune, “Under the Sea,” singing out from the swaying tendrils of sea grass. I was searching for Ariel the mermaid, but I must have just missed her on this dive.

There are over 12 islands in all to explore in the Bahamans Out Island region, each offering a different slice of history in a picturesque setting. From Christopher Columbus to Jacques Cousteau, explorers have long been fascinated with these hidden gems of the Caribbean. Just 100 miles south from Florida’s mainland, over 100,000 boaters venture here each year.

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There are exceptional resorts on the island for the less seaworthy travelers. One of our friends with a tendency to get seasick decided to stay at the Abacos Beach Resort, seven miles from the Marsh Harbor airport. The full service marina at the resort offers repairs for boats in need of service. This resort overlooks the harbor and offers two freshwater pools, tennis courts, a swim-up bar, a fitness center, and a private beach. All the rooms face the ocean with private terraces or balconies.

Quick flights from Nassau and Fort Lauderdale make visiting the islands an easy trip. The many charter boat companies offer a wide selection of fine vessels from 36-foot sailboats to 60-foot yachts. Prices range from $3,000 a week to $10,000 a week depending on the season and size of the boat. The chartered boats with a captain and a crew average around $6,000 to $8,000 a week for vessels that accommodate up to six people. Boats such as the 42-foot Jeanneau are around $6,000 a week during the high season from January through March.

Plan to pack light and leave your shoes at home. Bare boating in the Bahamas will have you singing a song of “Hey mon…I don’t want to go home.”

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