I was chatting with a skipper recently about the difficulties of chartering in the Exuma Bahamas. Namely, navigation and anchoring challenges resulting from shallow water and strong tidal currents.
With careful planning and attention, I think it’s a great place to test your skills after getting comfortable in easier destinations like the British Virgin Islands.
That said, I recounted a story when things got hairy trying to pick up a mooring ball at the Pirate’s Lair. In fact, the 3 biggest chartering mistakes I’ve made have happened on various trips to the Exumas.
With my tail between my legs, here are all the juicy details to help you avoid a similar fate!
Where’s the dinghy?
Midway through our trip, we made the quick dinghy trip from our anchorage near Thunderball Grotto to the famous Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We enjoyed some evening drinks and our fanciest dinner of the trip.
We were decked out in our best Christmas attire and were instantly recognized by the other Texans ashore by our Buccee’s ugly sweaters. Great times were had with those Texans…
I’ll blame the famous SCYC peanut coladas, but when we returned to the protected dingy beach a few hours later, our dinghy was gone!
After a few panicked moments and a scan of the area, we found it floating about 50 feet away behind a pier. We were lucky it didn’t head out to sea, never to be seen again.
Chartering mistake with the dinghy
I thought we had pulled the dinghy high enough on the beach, but I didn’t give enough respect to the Exuma tides. Secondary mistake: not tying off the dinghy to something ashore or setting the anchor.
Wrapping it up
If you’ve sailed long enough, it’s quite probable this chartering mistake has happened to you…
After a nearby lunch and snorkel stop, I motored us over to our overnight anchorage at the Emerald Rock mooring field in the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.
Since it was a short trip, we towed the dinghy behind us instead of raising it up on the davits.
As I was making adjustments to keep us on station while the crew secured the lines, I felt the starboard engine seize up. I knew immediately what happened.
Yup, I had wrapped the dinghy painter (line to tow the dinghy) around the propeller.
Fortunately, we still had one engine, conditions were settled, and the crew had almost finished with the lines. I spent the next 30 minutes with another crew member diving on the prop to cut away the line.
Chartering mistake while picking up the mooring ball
I neglected to assign someone to take the slack out of the dinghy painter. If you do wrap a prop, make sure you let the charter company know – it’s possible the drive shaft got bent.
Round and round we go
On another trip, we made for the Pirate’s Lair mooring field late in the afternoon. This is a beautiful and unique area of the park. The mooring field lies right in the middle of a cut with very strong currents on a changing tide.
We just so happened to arrive during one of those times, and we made at least 6 attempts to pick up a ball. Each time I had to maneuver in a tight area and I struggled to keep the Lagoon 450 in position for the crew.
On our 7th attempt, the park warden motored up (they were making the rounds to collect mooring ball fees), and informed us all of the balls were out of service. They kindly helped us with some intricate navigation to nearby Halls Pond Cay for the night.
Chartering mistake in the cut
- I approached the balls from downwind, but the tidal current had a much larger force on our cat. I should have approached from down current. Better yet, I should have planned for a slack tide to make things easier.
- I failed to recognize the balls were missing part of their pennant which would have made tying off difficult in any condition. Part of this was complicated by the fact we had earlier confirmed by radio with park officials that we could take one of these balls. There was some second-guessing involved.
- Lastly, I didn’t have a backup anchorage planned, so I was determined to make it happen. I now always have at least two possible overnight anchorages in mind – this is good practice in peak BVI seasons when mooring fields can fill up fast.
I’m happy to report that on our last Exuma trip in 2021, we conquered the Pirate’s Lair mooring field despite another strong current.
Thankfully, none of these chartering mistakes were too serious, but they could have been. I always learn a lot when things don’t go as planned and these situations were no different.
What other mistakes can be made while chartering? Here’s my top 10 list of mistakes to avoid.