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August 10, 2016

Deep-draft Nordhavns ideal for Bahamas cruising

Spending time in The Bahamas is on nearly every cruiser’s bucket list. The area is known for its clear turquoise water, white sand beaches and idyllic anchorages. But it’s also known to be low-tidal and very shallow. And for deep-draft Nordhavns, that’s not a good marriage.

Or so some would have you believe.

The very name Bahamas originated from the Spanish "Baja Mar" meaning “shallow sea" or "low tide". But it doesn’t mean that the destination needs to be off-limits for Nordhavn owners. Armed with knowledge of the area and with proper planning, The Bahamas can be a favorite cruising ground for any Nordhavn owner. And, in fact, it is. Earlier this year six Nordhavns gathered off Sand Dollar Beach in George Town for a mini-rendezvous while more recently, Nordhavn 86 VivieRae and Nordhavn 76 Take 5 enjoyed some time together in the Exumas. Ask any Nordhavn owner who has traveled down the east coast and chances are pretty good they’ll have been to The Bahamas.

So what is the secret to cruising The Bahamas in a Nordhavn? A good dose of common sense, of course, which starts with being aware of depths. Having quality charts and a well-calibrated sounder (to within an inch if possible) are most important. And although the tidal range is minimal, there is a high tide to be taken advantage of. Bob Giles, who owns N86 VivieRae often waits for high tide to sneak his 8’ 2” deep hull into his favorite anchorage spot. “We haven’t had any areas we wanted to go that we haven’t been able to,” he said.

And, thanks to The Bahamas’ approximate tidal range of about 3 feet, dropping the hook is a more predictable process. But even if you do touch bottom, the sandy surface makes this a not-so-scary occurrence, according to Nigel MacLeod, a Nordavn 63 owner who has been cruising the Bahamas the past 11 years. “Almost all the anchorages are in sand so it’s OK if your boat rests on the bottom at low tide. It’s also ok to slide along the sand if you have to (in a Nordhavn). Your prop is protected and if you have a dry stack, sand pickup is not an issue.”

Where the idea of The Bahamas being Nordhavn-prohibitive came from is unclear. But it continues to persist, much to the bewilderment of Nordhavn owners. For Giles, whose VivieRae is for sale (he’s got a new N96 on order), the unfounded rumor turned out to be a deal breaker. Despite Giles' insistence, a potential buyer, who loved to cruise the Bahamas, feared the boat’s deep draft would be problematic and keep him from exploring the area.

There are others, like multiple Nordhavn owner, Tokkie, who simply laugh off people’s perceptions of Nordhavns being limited in their cruising capabilities. After taking possession of his brand new Nordhavn 76 Ivanhoe earlier this year, Tokkie christened her with a maiden voyage from Palm Beach to the Bahamas. He’s spent a decade cruising there in his previous boat, a Nordhavn 56 Motorsailer, and will follow suit in the 76. “We go to the Bahamas every winter and nearly every time we go, we meet another Nordhavn there,” he said. As for the countless people who advise him against going to the Bahamas in his boat: “I just have another rum drink and giggle.”

N63 owner Macleod suspects the innuendo is perpetuated by boaters unfamiliar with the area’s waters or who have had bad experiences with rocky bottoms in shallow depths. Actually, many owners will say Nordhavns are the perfect boats for cruising the Bahamas. Just getting there can prove a much greater challenge for most makes of boats than would any depth issue be for a Nordhavn. Located 50 miles off the coast of Florida, there is a stretch of open sea plus the often inhospitable Gulf Stream to cross before reaching the tropical oasis. It’s not to be taken lightly. “Getting to the Bahamas involves a number of serious open ocean passages with often unpredictable sea conditions in the cruising season,” says Macleod. “A four-to-six-foot forecast can easily turn out to be six-to-eight feet or worse. These sea areas are Nordhavn territory if you don’t want to hang for weeks waiting for a window.”

Then there’s the matter of having a decent tender, one that can handle sea states and has some range. The tender is the key to finding all kinds of cool spots, says McLeod. His Silver Spray carries a 16-foot Nouvrania with a 90 HP outboard, the sort of tender a shallower draft mothership would likely be unable to cart. “We use it to run for sometimes as much as 50 nm to find secluded beaches and fantastic dive spots,” he says. “Can’t do that with a 10-foot tender and a 15 HP motor.”

Giles goes a step further with his tender, a custom built Winter Yacht 37’ walk-around, which he tows behind VivieRae. “Having a large tender definitely adds a ton of flexibility to any large yacht as you have the speed and shallower draft,” says Giles. “I love to dive and fish so this boat [is an] awesome tender to have along with my Nordhavn.”

Despite the number of photos and videos that exist of Nordhavns exploring the Bahamas, people will remain skeptical. In response, Macleod simply advises they go and find out for themselves. Perhaps it will be the number of Nordhavns they see anchored there that will change their minds. Or maybe it will be the absence of other, shallow draft trawlers that will convince them how well-suited Nordhavns truly are for The Bahamas.


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