One Wild Year in the Caribbean: a Possible Sailing Itinerary
Imagine where you were on this day last year... What if in that whole year you had been sailing around the Caribbean? In the midst of all the recent excitement (which you should read about here and here) I have been inhaling books to further refine the dream of sailing around the world. "One ocean, one year" is what I've read as a possible cruising timetable for such a long-haul journey, and I don't particularly mind that.
I have developed a possible itinerary for the first year of the trip taking into consideration a Charleston, SC departure, the prevailing trade winds, currents, hurricane season, and each country's legal ports of entry. The aim is to end in Trinidad and Tobago near the end of the hurricane season so that I could start the next big leg of the journey: rounding Cape Horn in South America (more on that later).
In making this itinerary it should be noted I have assumed a 6-knot per hour average speed and sailing only 12 hours per day at sea. Obviously if my crew and I are willing to suck it up and sail at night, we could shorten the time between ports and have way more time for sightseeing and enjoying each destination. Though I tried to utilize the predicted favorable sailing conditions when selecting destinations, I tended to assume that my crew and I would willingly endure periods of sailing into the wind and against the current when necessary. The main considerations were fun and being out of the Greater and Lesser Antilles during hurricane season. Without further ado:
1. Charleston, SC, USA to Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
Anticipated Departure Date: November 1, 2020
Approx. Distance: 510nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: November 8, 2020
The official hurricane season in the Caribbean is typically June through November, with highest frequency of hurricanes between August to October (Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Routes at 124). Conventional wisdom advises to sail the northern and eastern parts of the Caribbean during the winter months (which isn't altogether a bad idea anyways) and either head home or head south during the summer months. While a November 1 start date is still in the tail end of hurricane season, that is a risk I am willing to live with for more time exploring. Plus, during the month of November we'll still be relatively close to the U.S. if we need to make an emergency trip to hunker down.
Though I have never heard of Marsh Harbour, I chose it as a first destination because I love the Bahamas and because it is on an island in the Bahamas I've never been to. Since getting there would be my first week-long sailing trip as my own skipper, I wanted to make new experiences all around, and that's the point of sailing around the world!
2. Marsh Harbour, Bahamas to Nassau, Bahamas
Anticipated Departure Date: November 15, 2020
Approx. Distance: 100nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: November 17, 2020
There is no doubt that Nassau is a touristy place, but it's for a reason. The island is beautiful! Given that my brother and I are doing this in part to enjoy life, a little time partying with locals and with tourists can't be all that bad! I planned for a week in Nassau, and I just hope that we are willing and able to leave after that.
3. Nassau, Bahamas to Cockburn Town, Turks & Caicos
Anticipated Departure Date: November 24, 2020
Approx. Distance: 413nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: November 30, 2020
Cockburn Town, the capital city of Turks & Caicos, is the next big destination. I am particularly excited about having the opportunity to SCUBA dive out here; according to Noonsite, the waters around these islands are reputed to be one of the best diving sites in the world, bested only by the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Reef.
With views like this I believe it! Not surprising, I've added learning how to SCUBA dive to my list of adventures this summer. There are about 40 islands and cays we will be able to explore in our two weeks in Turks and & Caicos!
4. Cockburn Town, Turks & Caicos to Labadie, Haiti
Anticipated Departure Date: December 14, 2020
Approx. Distance: 122nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: December 16, 2020
From there we head southwest towards Haiti. The thing that seems pretty great about the Caribbean is that all of these islands are relatively close to each other, so you're not spending weeks at sea between ports. The prevailing winds throughout the year in the Caribbean blow from the East or Northeast, so going eastbound generally will be somewhat difficult. However, from Turks and Caicos to Haiti you can expect to be sailing with the wind at your back, making for a fast run.
While Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it is also one of the safest for cruisers, having no reported attacks on cruisers since 2015 as of the date of this post (Source: Noonsite). Haiti is still recovering from the onslaught of natural disasters over the past decade, but it is still a vibrant society rich in culture and a gorgeous place to visit. Definitely looking forward to it and maybe even getting some volunteer time in!
5. Labadie, Haiti to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Anticipated Departure Date: December 20, 2020
Approx. Distance: 593nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: December 28, 2020
I struggled a bit deciding on this route. I originally wanted to take the most direct route to Punta Cana (i.e. via the northern shore), but many of the cruising guides and websites I read recommend sailing eastbound on the southern side of Hispaniola due to a persistent Atlantic swell on the northern side. If everyone's recommending it, it must be a big deal, so I'll take their advice... this time.
I imagine the arrival at Punta Cana will be much sweeter given the few extra days at sea. Growing up I had a few Venezuelan friends who raved about Punta Cana as being the preferred vacation destination for young Venezuelan partygoers. I'm excited to find out why, and during New Years celebrations no less!
6. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Anticipated Departure Date: January 11, 2021
Approx. Distance: 130nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: January 13, 2021
I'm not going to lie, after a week of partying and a day and a half of sailing, I have no doubt that spending some time back in a familiar US territory will be a welcome experience. I have a few friends who are from Puerto Rico, so I'm hoping when they find out I'll be there they'll fly down to show my brother and I around!
7. San Juan, Puerto Rico to Road Town, BVI
Anticipated Departure Date: January 18, 2021
Approx. Distance: 86nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: January 20, 2021
From Puerto Rico we start the journey into a group of Caribbean islands known as the Lesser Antilles, made up of three subgroups of islands: the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles. The first group of islands we'll encounter are the Leeward Islands. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are considered the capital of the bareboat charter boat industry, so we can expect it to be quite crowded waters. The cruising guides I have read indicate that finding anchorages anywhere in there can be quite challenging.
Notwithstanding, the island of Tortola, where Road Town is located, is known to be absolutely stunning--my mom could not stop raving about it for years after she visited it. I think it would be worth it to spend the extra time to find a good anchorage. Here's a little snapshot of what to expect ;)
8. Road Town, BVI to Cruz Bay, USVI
Anticipated Departure Date: February 3, 2021
Approx. Distance: 13nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: February 4, 2021
The Virgin Islands of the United States (USVI) is another crowded group of islands, but can be well worth the hassle of finding a good anchorage. The island of St. John, in particular, is one I have never been to but would really like to explore. Approximately 75% of the island is a national park under the supervision of the U.S. National Park Service, and is well-maintained. Nothing like a bit of eco-tourism sprinkled in to our sailing adventure!
9. Cruz Bay, USVI to Christiansted, USVI
Anticipated Departure Date: February 18, 2021
Approx. Distance: 36nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: February 19, 2021
A short southerly trip to the island of St. Croix, USVI will be a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the main BVI/USVI islands. Apparently St. Croix, while still a popular destination spot in the USVI is less crowded than the other islands since it is a bit out-of-the-way from the normal cruising routes.
10. Christiansted, USVI to Road Bay, Anguilla
Anticipated Departure Date: February 26, 2021
Approx. Distance: 97nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: February 28, 2021
Perhaps this is the reason St. Croix is not as busy: given the general NE prevailing winds in the area, sailing to Anguilla will probably be a bumpy ride, sailing in to the wind for the whole day. No guts, no glory they say. It's just a day, right?
I struggled adding Anguilla to the list. Although known as being one of the most beautiful of the Caribbean islands for its crystal clear waters and pristine ecosystem, the cost of keeping the island so gorgeous translates to higher costs and restrictions to boaters. The island has certain designated anchorage sites, and the cruising permits are both expensive and restrictive. I have read that anchoring anywhere other than Road Bay can cost you upwards of $100 USD per night! Notwithstanding, since presumably we are only doing the Caribbean once, I couldn't take it off the list--if we have to pay $100 one or two nights, so be it. It looks to be worth it:
11. Road Bay, Anguilla to Marigot, St. Martin
Anticipated Departure Date: March 13, 2021
Approx. Distance: 14nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: March 13, 2021
Growing up I was fortunate enough to be able to visit St. Martin a couple times, and I can honestly tell you back then it was one of my favorite tropical destinations. Naturally, I couldn't pass up including it on the list. Like most of these islands so far, the sands are white, the people friendly, and the life relaxing. This is one week I am particularly looking forward to, and it should be interesting being able to stay overnight this time around.
12. Marigot, St. Martin to Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis
Anticipated Departure Date: March 20, 2021
Approx. Distance: 67nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: March 21, 2021
Apparently St. Kitts and Nevis is off-the-beaten-path as compared to Antigua, mostly because of a difficult current to navigate. Again we will have to put on our YOLO hats and make it happen. Though less scenic than the other islands, the history of St. Kitts and Nevis is quite fascinating (more on that in a future post). I think it's worth a day of rough sailing.
14. Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis to English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda
Anticipated Departure Date: April 4, 2021
Approx. Distance: 62nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: April 5, 2021
As the itinerary gets closer and closer to hurricane season in June, sadly we'll be forced to skip some other awesome islands on the journey southward. Barbuda is one of them. The island is currently being rebuilt following the devastation of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, and though I would really love to see it, I think we're going to have to pass. Antigua is not a bad substitute, however, and English Harbour is supposed to be absolutely gorgeous, having one facility in particular, Nelsons Dockyard, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
15. English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda to Little Bay, Montserrat
Anticipated Departure Date: April 19, 2021
Approx. Distance: 30nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: April 19, 2021
I have Montserrat slotted for one week, but depending on how the situation actually is once we are out there, we may have to depart early. The island has no natural harbors, and I have read that anchoring can be quite wavy in the wintertime. The island itself is mostly scenic as a volcanic eruption in 1995 wiped out two-thirds of the island, including the capital of Plymouth. Given the rustic nature of the place, I would be very excited to do some hiking though (and see the volcano if we're allowed to)!
16. Little Bay, Montserrat to Trois Ilets, Martinique
Anticipated Departure Date: April 26, 2021
Approx. Distance: 158nm
Anticipated Arrival Date: April 28, 2021
With Martinique we skip down into the Windward Islands and experience a bit of French culture. Martinique is said to have numerous calm anchorages, great food, and good hiking. Given that Martinique also has a reputation of having high-quality yacht facilities, this may be a convenient place to give the boat a thorough review and repair anything that needs to be repaired.
17. Trois Ilets, Martinique to Bridgetown, Barbados
Anticipated Departure Date: Ma