The Bahamas is comprised of more than 3,000 islands, cays and islets spread out across nearly 500 miles in the Atlantic Ocean. Surprisingly, from ports like Jupiter and the Palm Beaches on Florida's east coast, it's only around 60 NM to the nearest point in the Bahamas — actually closer than cruising down to Miami. Which begs the question: Why go south when you can go east instead and check out these idyllic islands?
If you're a fishing aficionado, you probably know that the Bahamas is a prime destination for anglers of all stripes. Inshore fishermen can snag yellowtail, kingfish, redfish, snapper and grouper. Offshore fishermen are typically after the abundance of amberjack, mako, blackfin, yellowfin, wahoo, marlin, cobia, dorado and king mackerel.
Maybe your wish list involves nothing more than the Four S's: sun, sand, surf and seafood. If so, The Bahamas has you covered. With more than 2,000 breath-taking beaches, snorkelers crave “the clear, warm waters, exotic fish and clusters of coral in these parts. Think Paradise Cove, Rose Island Reef or Angelfish Blue Hole.
At the end of the day, don't forget to replenish. The food here is fresh, flavorful and fantastic — ceviche, conch fritters, smudder fish, spiny lobster, Bahamian fish stew — unique, adventuresome cuisine that'll make your tastebuds dance for joy.
Prior to departing Jupiter, check out the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum. Maintained by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, the museum's exhibits trace over 5,000 years of regional history, from the local Seminole tribespeople to Spanish explorers in the 16th century to the Lighthouse's construction in 1860 and its continuous operation since.
Fortify yourself with a sumptuous dinner the night before at 1000 NORTH on the Loxahatchee River, where you can dine on delicacies like hamachi tiradito, crab spaghetti alla chitarra, wagyu filet mignon or one of the sensational seafood towers.
Tip: Although Jupiter is only 55 NM from West End on Grand Bahama Island, getting there requires crossing the Gulf Stream, which can be tricky for boaters unfamiliar with its peculiarities. The northward flow of the Gulf Stream typically averages between 2 and 2.5 knots, so if you're leaving Florida and heading due east, that means every hour you travel will put you eastward at whatever speed you're traveling, plus 2 to 2.5 miles north. Be sure to allow for this in your calculations.
Estimated Mileage: 81 NM
Old Bahama Bay Resort & Yacht Harbour or Blue Marlin Cove Resort & Marina in West End on Grand Bahama Island are the closest stops once you reach the Bahamas, only 55 NM. You can put in here if you need to top off your fuel before making the 26 NM run down the coast to Freeport.
Clearing customs can be accomplished in West End, too. The Customs & Immigration office at Old Bahama Bay is open from 9:00-5:00 daily. Bahamas Customs requires your vessel's registration, as well as a completed Maritime Declara- tion Form and Inward Report Form. Bahamas Immigration requires the Inward Passenger & Crew Manifest form and an Immigration Card for each person arriving on the vessel. Permits and fees are $150 per vessel for 30 feet and under; $300 per vessel 31 feet and above. This includes clearance, cruising permit and fishing fee for up to three people, and Customs accepts cash only.
Freeport is a free trade zone on Grand Bahama Island that was established in 1955 to attract business to the islands. Tax-free shopping is one of the main attractions here, which is why the Port Lucaya Marketplace is worth a stop. For dinner, check out The Stoned Crab, Flying Fish GastroBar or Daddy Brown's Conch Stand (bare bones, limited menu), all highly rated and just steps from The Pointe Marina.
Estimated Mileage: 85-150 NM
Even though it's less than 90 NM from Freeport to Abaco heading from the south coast of Grand Bahama, you may want to consider taking the Grand Lucayan Waterway (GLW), which cuts through the middle of Grand Bahama, and opt for the northern route. It'll add a few miles to your itinerary, but it's a much smoother ride.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you take the GLW: First, the Casuarina Bridge has a 27-foot fixed vertical clearance, limiting passage mainly to power vessels. Second, although the waterway itself has depths of 8-10 feet, the channel at the northern end in Dover Sound only has 4-foot depths, limiting the passage to shoal-draft vessels.
Marsh Harbour, on the east side of Abaco, is the main port and commercial center on the island, offering visitors several shops, cafés, hotels, resorts, restaurants and other amenities. Hungry? Consider Snappas, Wally's Fine Dining or the Jib Room. While you’re in Marsh Harbour, be sure to check out the newly renovated Conch Inn & Marina. It’s got all the amenities that boaters want including fuel, water, electricity, 24-hour security and a seaside restaurant serving fresh local catch.
Estimated Mileage: 104 NM
Given Nassau's 100-year history as a tourist destination and its position as the capital of the Bahamas, it's no wonder that New Providence Island and nearby Paradise Island (home of the massive Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas Resort) together attract more than 7 million visitors a year.
Nassau has a rich history spanning more than 300 years. Historic landmarks include Christ Church Cathedral, Parliament Square, the Queen's Staircase, Vendue House and historic Forts Charlotte, Fincastle and Montagu. Underwater sports enthusiasts enjoy the area's many shipwrecks, blue holes and swim-through caves, and serious divers can tackle the 6,000-foot-deep Tongue of the Ocean that separates New Providence and Andros Islands.
For nature lovers, The Retreat Garden boasts one of the largest private collections of rare and exotic palms in the world (about 170 types spread across its 11 acres), and bird watchers flock to New Providence to see dozens of rare species. Visit the numerous markets and shops in Nassau for everything from local crafts and foodstuffs to duty-free items such as jewelry and watches.
Estimated Mileage: 129 NM
After the bustle of Nassau, the tranquil beaches of Exuma provide the perfect counterpoint. Coco Plum, Tropic of Cancer, Forbes Hill, Hoopers Bay, Jolly Hall... you really can't go wrong no matter which one you choose. Check out nearby Stocking Island for more gorgeous sand and scenery. The restaurant scene in George Town is equally low key and laid back. Try Shirley's Seafood, Sam's on the Bay, or Driftwood Cafe & Bistro for some of the freshest seafood on the planet.
For something a bit more energetic, the Exumas hosts two major yachting events each year: the National Family Island Regatta (April) and the George Town Sailing Regatta (March). You'll also find one of nicest golf courses in the Caribbean here: the Greg Norman-designed Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course features six signature holes hugging the coastline of a scenic peninsula, with trade winds adding to the challenge.
The Marina at Emerald Bay is a great place to refuel and refit before heading on to your next destination. And downtown George Town boasts shops, markets, historic churches, schools, a police station and a hospital, if you need to resupply.