Page 48


Boats for the Bahamas - Part II By Colin Ward In Part I, we took a look at what kind of boat can successfully cruise the Bahamas, as well as what the ideal cruising boat for the Bahamas might look like. The conclusion was that a 40-foot sailboat with a 5-foot draft is well-suited as a cruiser for a couple but that almost any seaworthy vessel can succeed in Bahamian waters. Sails For All Conditions This time, we will look at some features to select and equipment to incorporate if you are presently purchasing or outfitting a boat. Since this is a sailing magazine, let’s start with something about sails and rigs. The average winter wind velocity in the Bahamas is considerably more than in Florida. Beware of averages though—while the average wind might be 15 knots, it rarely actually blows 15—usually a lot more or a lot less. On the windy days, that usually means a reef in the main and a partially furled genoa, and on the light days, it often means a motor sail. Sailing on the shallow and protected Banks, the 20-knot winds may well result in a great sail on relatively flat seas. On the ocean side, the seas can be quite large and closely spaced when you are near land. Sailing on Exuma Sound, for instance, can be a wet experience with a dangerous lee shore waiting for anyone who has problems. So what does that mean in terms of a suitable boat? Well, I believe a boat that sails well in heavier air is important, especially with one or two reefs in the main. A boat that points to weather well is nice to have, but is not critical away from the racecourse. A roller furling genoa of modest size is best. We install our 115 percent when we arrive in the Bahamas and put the 140 per-


October 2005


Staniel Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas

cent away. Sometimes we sail with the 115 percent roller furled four or five wraps. A boat with a roller-furling main is probably a good choice also since the additional area provided by roach and battens will not be missed very often. Although a ketch is uncommon on the new-boat market, many older ketches are out cruising. It is unusual, however, to see a ketch flying its mizzen sail. The additional complexity and cost of a second mast does not seem to be worthwhile. Those who have ketches do have the advantage of a place to mount a wind generator and radar, and a boom to use to hoist the outboard. In addition, each sail is smaller and easier to handle than the sails of an equivalent sloop. A cutter rig with a roller-furling staysail provides many options, especially in heavy air when the genoa can be rolled in and the staysail rolled out without the crew having to leave the cockpit. Boat Features for the Bahamas Let’s talk about rudders for a moment. You are probably stuck with whatever rudder came on your boat, but if you are buying a boat, choosing one with a rudder that is protected by a skeg rather than a spade rudder makes sense in shallow waters with abundant coral heads. Unfortunately, new boats with significant skegs, are well up the price scale. Keels go with rudders, of course. Part I discussed the draft of the vessel. A modest draft fin keel or modified full keel is probably the best compromise for a monohull. There are definite advantages to a lifting keel/centerboard in theory, but it introduces another moving part that can be noisy, can fail and must be maintained. Lifting keels requires a periodic check of the pivot pin and the lifting cable, and keeping the centerboard slot cleaned and painted adds another dimension to bottom jobs. The wing keel was an innovation during America’s Cup competition that made a difference in how a boat sailed to weather. The addition of wing keels to cruising boats may possibly be a marketing innovation. Note that they bear a resemblance to a Bruce anchor, and consider how hard it would be to back one off from a grounding, particularly where there is no towing