Old Bahama Channel to Key West

After the Bahamas National Family Regatta we were anxious to take advantage of a good weather window to head back to Key West. Most people would head north through the Exuma Chain, across to Nassau, jump across the Tongue of the Ocean to the Berry Islands, and then cross the banks to Bimini or West End before finally making a jump across the Gulf Stream to Florida. We’re not most people. We chose the less traveled path of the Old Bahama Channel, which follows the coast of Cuba northwest until you hit the Gulf Stream and then continue to a point along the Florida Keys.

We like this route because it is much quicker than the northern route. With the exception of the first 10-12 hours, there are no shallow coral formations to worry about and we can run day and night without having to stop. On the downside, there are no “bail-out” anchorages, should we run in to bad weather or have a mechanical issue.

George Town to Key West is approximately 400 miles. At our trawler speed, that equates to around 60 hours of travel time. People always ask if we stop at night. The answer is: “If possible, YES!” If we’re running along a coast, we prefer to stop and we often plan our trips around protected and interesting anchorages. Unfortunately, the Old Bahama Channel route does not offer any options for anchoring. The route does follow the northern coast of Cuba, but stopping on their coast would not be an option, except in an extreme emergency and even at that, there are very few harbors along the path.

When we have to do a passage where there is no option to stop at night, Michelle and I keep a 3 on/3 off watch schedule. I am on at 6 and 12 (AM & PM). Michelle takes the 9 and 3 (AM & PM) watches. We have tried a number of different schedules, but this one works for us and allows us to get adequate sleep. Of course, it would be nice to get a few more hours of contiguous sleep, but if we are disciplined about sleep, we are able to get 7-10 hours of sleep every 24 hours. We both fight boredom on these longer passages, but we try to pass the time reading, watching movies, or chatting. Unless there is a maintenance issue that requires my immediate attention, I try not to do projects while on passage. I find that I just don’t have the energy for it!

This trip was mostly uneventful with ideal wind and seas. We saw a lot of water, almost no boats, a few dolphins, and some great sunsets and sunrises! In other words, it was a perfect passage!

We arrived at Stock Island Marina at 7:35 AM on the third day of our passage. Our friends Clayton and Deanna (Nordhavn 50, “Tivoli”) were on the dock to catch our lines for us and welcome us back to the states! We spent a few fun days in Key West with them, playing tourist and re-provisioning. Key West is one of my favorite stops. I love the vibe of the town and if it the marinas weren’t so darned expensive we would have stayed longer, but after a short week, we were off again, headed to the Dry Tortugas, buddy boating again with our friends on Tivoli.

There’s no denying it: Sunsets are always more beautiful at sea!
I don’t care how many times we see dolphins around the boat, they are always welcome visitors that bring joy and excitement!
There is a lot of nothing in the ocean, but Sargassum is not an unusual sighting in this part of the world. Often the plant is found in vast patches and provides a floating home for all manner of marine life. When we are hunting Mahi, we often successfully troll our lures along the lines of Sargassum that are formed by tide and current.
We made a minor detour to take a look at Cay Sal, one of the few islands that lies along our path. In benign conditions, this could be a stopping point before crossing the Gulf Stream, but with only about 12 hours left to go, neither of us wanted to stop!
From a distance, we thought there was a boat pulled up on the beach at Cay Sal. We thought we might be reliving our Haitian refuge experience from a few months ago.
One last look at the gorgeous blue multi-hued waters of the Bahamas. We won’t see water like this again until next winter…:(

Next up: A quick stop in the Dry Tortugas and then we head across the Gulf of Mexico to South Padre Island, TX

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8 Replies to “Old Bahama Channel to Key West”

    1. Gary, here’s the really cool part about cruising: If we get bored, we move to someplace new! Never fails! Personally, I can’t imagine living in the same house and playing golf on the same course every weekend… 🙂

    1. Thanks Sue! Miss you guys. We need to start planning a Semi-Circle of Superiority event for next winter…

  1. I spent three days camping in the Dry Tortugas based on your parents memories and talk of the dry Tortugas. Have a great time in there I hope to return soon myself. Fabulous place. Love reading about your journeys.

    1. The Dry Tortugas is definitely our favorite national park. My first trip was with Mom & Dad in 1980 and I’ve been there no less than 12 times since. Glad you got to camp there. We may be heading your way in the fall. We’ll be in touch…

    1. We haven’t left from Georgetown before, only from the Ragged Islands. If I were in GT, I would probably only take the Old Bahama Channel Route back to the US if I wanted to return to the FL Keys or perhaps Miami or Fort Lauderdale. If you just want to take a different route home and the OBC sounds interesting, you’ll have to come down past the Jumentos/Raggeds via the Comer Channel (this will add 1-2 days to your trip.

      If you do decide to take the OBC route, you’ll want to stay up on the Bahamas Bank, as the OBC runs West to East. If you stay just up on the bank, you’ll avoid the current and probably have a more comfortable trip. Stay in 15-25 feet of water for the best and safest ride. Once you pass the Cay Sal Bank, you’ll hit the Gulf Stream and you’ll either have to crab west to get to the keys, or if you’re going further north, hook a right and enjoy the ride.

      Keep in mind that the OBC route home is wide open with no bail out points, so if you hit weather, or have an equipment issue, there’s no place to go and you’ll be pretty much on your own. Having said that, we’ve taken that route home 4 times now and we think it is an excellent option to avoid having to work your way north through the Bahamas Chain.

      Good luck and enjoy!

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