Shard 1

By Paul and Sheryl Shard

Exuma Islands – sailing in the lee of the islands on flat seas
The clarity and beautiful colours of the water in the Bahamas is a big appeal for sailing and powerboat cruisers alike. A dream day of sailing is heading up island on flat seas in the lee of the Exuma Island chain with a trade wind to fill the sails.
Photo by Sheryl Shard

Do you ever dream about traveling by boat on sparkling tropical seas as winter sets in at home and the weather turns colder and grayer?

We used to.

Then, almost 30 years ago, we decided to take a big step and do our first bareboat charter in the Caribbean to escape the snow and experience a mid-winter sailing adventure in Paradise. (We were novice sailors then.) My husband, Paul, and I shared a boat with friends on that trip, which made it pretty affordable, and we discovered that winter sailing in the Caribbean didn't have to be merely a dream after all. We got hooked.

Several more bareboat vacations ignited the desire to take our own boat south, which eventually led to plans for a one-year sailing sabbatical.

“Then we'll settle down,” we said.

Shard 2

Exuma Islands – Stocking Island Beach, Georgetown, Exuma
Having a beautiful deserted beach all to yourself is possible in many places while cruising in the Bahamas. Just over the hill and across the harbour is the Georgetown settlement, the main commercial centre for the Exuma Island group, yet a dinghy ride gives you the world to yourself. There is a small charter base in Georgetown, shops for provisioning, banks as well as an international airport yet a nearby deserted beach. Paul wanders the beach after a beach run.
Photo by Sheryl Shard

We set sail from Port Credit Yacht Club on Lake Ontario aboard our Classic 37 cutter rigged sloop, “Two-Step”, a boat we had built ourselves from a bare hull and deck, and headed south down the Erie Canal and Intracoastal Waterway for the Bahamas and Caribbean. That was in 1989. One year led to two, and then three. Twenty-eight years later, we're still “out there”.

“We never have been good at keeping to a schedule,” we tell people and wink.

That sailing sabbatical ultimately led us to a lifestyle of full-time cruising. We are blessed that as photo-journalists and documentary television producers we have been able to earn our living while traveling around the world living on our own sailboat. Our television series, Distant Shores, is now broadcast worldwide on television in over 42 million households in 24 languages. It's in its 11th season with over 130 half-hour episodes and more on the way. We know that not everyone can get away to experience the sailing lifestyle full time as we do so we feel honoured to share our adventures and experiences through our work so that others may benefit.

Inset OpenExuma Islands – A calm day on the Exuma Bank – bow shot
Even when there is a day with little wind, the beauty of the water in the Bahamas makes motoring a pleasure. The banks in the Bahamas are so clear blue and shallow they look like giant swimming pools.
Photo by Paul Shard

Paul and I have now sailed over 100,000 nm, visited countries on 5 continents, have completed 7 ocean crossings as well as many hundreds of miles of offshore passage-making on the three boats we've owned. (We're currently having our 4th boat built by Discovery Yachts Group in the UK, a new Southerly 480 which we helped design. It will be launched this spring and we are heading for the South Pacific.) We've cruised the Med, the Middle East, Northern Europe, the British Isles and have spent many seasons in the Caribbean and Bahamas over the years.

We keep coming back to the Bahamas and Caribbean.

It is such a Paradise for Canadian boaters! Warm steady trade winds, turquoise seas, opportunities to sail island-to-island on flat seas in the lee of jewel-like island chains. If you are planning a bareboat vacation, there are numerous charter bases to choose from located close to international airports that you can fly to affordably and conveniently. The water is beautiful, the swimming, snorkeling, diving and fishing are great. The flora and fauna you're sailing past is resplendent. What's not to like?

Dolphin

 

Exuma Islands – Dolphin
There is abundant marine life in the Bahamas including dolphins. This friendly lady makes regular appearances in the anchorages of Elizabeth Harbour in Georgetown, Exuma, and plays with swimmers in the water.

If you are planning a sailing get-away to the Bahamas and Caribbean in the future, but can't decide where to go, here are 5 of our favourite cruising and chartering destinations for you to consider.

The Bahamas
We almost missed the Bahamas completely on our first trip south in 1989. We were so fixated on getting to the Caribbean we were ready to jump offshore at Beaufort, North Carolina, and go straight to the Caribbean. Thankfully friends at our yacht club took us aside and respectfully mentioned that, with our limited experience at the time, an offshore passage to the Caribbean might be a challenging way to start our cruising life, not to mention that we'd be missing one of the world's top cruising destinations – the Bahamas.

 

 

Beach PigExuma Islands – Pig Beach
Less commonly seen are aquatic pigs! However at Big Major Spot near Staniel Cay, Exuma, native pigs come out into the water for handouts from cruisers in the anchorage. The island started out as a natural corral for the locals' livestock but “Pig Beach” has now become a popular tourist attraction. This unique experience is not to be missed!

We are eternally grateful to those friends for convincing us to take our time and build our offshore experience by coastal cruising down the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, ducking into the Intracoastal Waterway when the weather got challenging and enjoying the stops along the route to Florida. From there we made the jump across the Gulf Stream for our first of many winters of cruising in the amazingly beautiful islands of the Bahamas.

The Bahamas, officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is a nation of island groups that became independent from the United Kingdom in 1973, but still retains membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as monarch and having a Governor-General and Prime Minister. As Canadians with a similar parliamentary system, things feel somewhat familiar here.

Going for a Run

Exuma Islands – Paul goes for a run on Stocking Island Beach
It is possible to have beautiful white sand beaches all to yourself when you start exploring the out islands of the Bahamas aboard a boat.

The Bahamas is a great destination for new cruising sailors, especially Canadians from the Great Lakes and Maritime Provinces as well as the Northern States of the USA, since if you're making the trip down on your own boat rather than chartering, you can do daysails almost the whole way getting there.

There are over 700 small islands and cays, mostly uninhabited, in the Bahamas with numerous island groups so you can spend many seasons there exploring new places each year. The whole area of the Bahamas equals almost the same area as the Eastern Caribbean islands. The economy is pretty good, the people in the out island settlements where the sailing and natural beauty is best, are friendly and relaxed, there are so many anchorages you rarely have to go into a marina which keeps costs low and the water clarity and colour is still the most beautiful we have ever seen.

DrinksExuma Islands – Afternoon cocktails, Sangria
A great way to relax in the afternoon is with cold drinks in the cockpit with a backdrop of turquoise seas.
Photo by Paul Shard

The name “Bahamas” is derived from the Spanish term for shallow seas, “Baha Mar”, so you do have to be careful with your navigation, especially if your boat draws over 6 feet. Don't worry. There is lots of deep water but depending on your boat's draft you may have to avoid some places. There are many reefs to be wary of but the water clarity is so good you can generally see the reef patches clearly if you keep a good lookout and watch your charts and depthfinder carefully.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lobster Dinner

Exuma Islands – Steamed lobster dinner aboard Distant Shores II
Steam fresh-caught lobster tails in boiling saltwater for a few minutes until the meat becomes opaque and the shells reddish. Lobster season in the Bahamas is August 1 - March 31 so if you like snorkeling and enjoy lobster tail dinners, get yourself a hand spear (you are not allowed to catch them using a speargun), practice your breath-holding (you are restricted from on catching them using scuba tanks) and learn how to catch a “bug” or “crawfish” as the locals call them. They are also readily available from local fishers.
Photo by Sheryl Shard

 


The best island groups for chartering are the Abacos and the Exumas. The Exuma Islands remain our favourite since they are further south so don't experience as many “northers” (cold fronts) in the winter months as the Abaco Islands so if you only have a short time to charter you have a better chance of good weather in the Exumas, however there are more options for chartering in the Abacos and we have always had great experiences there.

Flowers

BVI – Pink bougainvillea
Bougainvillea flourish in the Caribbean and Bahamas and come in a variety of colours. They are a sight for sore eyes used to the monotone colours of a Canadian winter.
Photo by Sheryl Shard

British Virgin Islands
If you are dreaming of a wonderful winter getaway for tropical sailing, the British Virgin Islands might just be the perfect choice! It is one of the world's most popular bareboat charter destinations and was the first place in the Caribbean that we chartered back in the '80's. I was a bit hesitant about the plan of a sailing lifestyle at the time and taking me there was Paul's way of convincing me that sailing off into the sunset and living on a boat was a great idea. It worked!

The British Virgin Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean located east of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago with the other islands in the archipelago being the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands. The area of the British Virgin Islands is 150-square-kilometres (58 square miles) and consists of four main islands – Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke plus 50 other smaller islands and cays, about 15 of which are uninhabited. Population in 2016 was estimated at 30,800.

Sailing Upwind

BVI – Distant Shores II sailing upwind, Sir Francis Drake Channel

We have made numerous voyages back to the British Virgin Islands since our first visit in 1989, most recently in 2016, and were never disappointed. Yes there have been changes but mostly small and mostly improvements. The natural beauty still remains but now there are better facilities, services and communications. These islands are very well set up for sailors, who account for most of the tourism here. It's a very relaxing and friendly place to sail. Everything is easy. We never worry about crime.

The British Virgin Islands are a safe and comfortable place for novices to get a taste of Caribbean cruising since the islands are very protected and close together. Although the BVI can be busy and some anchorages crowded in season (late December through March), there are still quite a few quiet idyllic spots if you get off the regular charter itinerary. Some of our favourite anchorages are Great Harbour on Peter Island, behind the reef in Eustatia (Statia) Sound when conditions are right and just about everywhere in North Sound, Virgin Gorda. If you are up to a bit of an offshore daysail, Anegada it is a very special place.

Deadman's bayBVI – Anchorage at Deadman's Bay, Peter Island
Photo by Sheryl Shard

Sailing is fantastic in the BVI since you are protected by the Sir Francis Drake Channel so even with perky Caribbean "Christmas winds" or occasional northern fronts you still have a nice place to sail and lots of safe anchorages, marinas and mooring fields with reliable regularly checked well spaced mooring balls ($30 per night on our last visit in 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Trail Hiking

BVI – View from hiking trail of Saba Rock Resort, North Sound

Provisioning is excellent in Road Town as well with smaller grocery stores in the other islands for topping up supplies while you're cruising.

Many charter companies are based out of Road Town, Tortola, and you can pick up a motor yacht, sailboat or catamaran there, sail less than 1 hour and be in an amazing tropical paradise. It's pretty much all “eyeball navigation” since you can see from one island to the next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distant Shores 2

Nevis – Distant Shores II tied to mooring ball off Pinney Beach
Showing mooring ball
Photo by Paul Shard

Nevis

Last winter we finally stopped at the small island of Nevis after sailing past it many times on our way up-island to St. Martin, a great place for annual maintenance, or down-island to the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. We were so sorry that we had missed this treasure on so many occasions! What a gem! I know we will return again and again to make up for lost time.

Nevis and its neighbouring island of St. Kitts make up one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, which lie in the leeward island chain in the Caribbean. St. Kitts and Nevis are separated by a shallow 3-kilometre (2 mile) channel known as “The Narrows” and it is here off Pinney Beach that the best protected anchorage for the island is. There are mooring balls available and it is a dinghy ride to Customs and Immigration at Charlestown, the capital.

Nevis, the much smaller of the two islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, is only about 93 square kilometres (36 square miles) in area, conical in shape with a volcano known as Nevis Peak at its centre. Nevis is about 350 km east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 80 km west of Antigua. There are about 12,000 citizens, who will tell you proudly that the literacy rate of the island at 98 percent, is one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Beach BarsNevis – Colurful Beach Bars, Pinney Beach
Photo by Paul Shard

When we visited last summer they also proudly told us that our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and his family had vacationed and celebrated New Years on the island. Other dignitaries associated with Nevis are Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, whose birthplace and early childhood home was Nevis, and British Admiral Horatio Nelson who was stationed in Nevis early in his naval career and met and married Frances Nisbet, the young widow of a Nevis plantation-owner.

Dining Ashore

 

 

Nevis – Dining ashore at the Four Season Hotel, Pinney Beach

Photo by Paul Shard

The plantations are no longer operating as plantations but have been turned into beautiful resorts, many of which you can hike to along old trails. We did some cycling around the island as well as hiking and enjoyed the beach bars and excellent restaurants ashore. We also spent a magical full moon night working with volunteers protecting and tagging turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs on the quiet pristine beaches on Nevis. We were there in late July and early August in time for the annual Culturama Festival too, which is the island's carnival, but there are numerous festivals and events all year round.

Nevis HikeNevis – Sheryl and exotic vegetation on Nevis hikes
Photo by Paul Shard

If you are cruising or chartering in the Leeward Islands, be sure to make Nevis a stop in your cruise plan.

 

 

Approaching Portsmouth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominica – Approaching Portsmouth on the northwest coast.
Photo by Paul Shard

Dominica
Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is said to be the one island in the Caribbean that is still closest to the state that Christopher Columbus would have discovered it in when he and his crew came upon it in 1493 on their second voyage to the New World. Today its pristine mountainous terrain makes it a haven for hikers and the beautiful clear waters make it a treasure for sailors, divers and whale watchers too. If you love quiet places and getting out in nature, Dominica is a great place to visit.

We last visited Dominica aboard our Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, a year ago after island-hopping from St Maarten to Nevis, Nevis to Guadeloupe, and Guadeloupe to Dominica where we anchored in Prince Rupert Bay off the town of Portsmouth , the island's main anchorage, on the northwest coast of this ruggedly beautiful and luxuriously green island.


BBQ on the BeachDominica – P.A.Y.S. Events House, BBQ on the beach
Every Sunday during the season members hold a fundraising BBQ here for visiting sailors and locals.
Photo by Paul Shard

Dominica is officially called the Commonwealth of Dominica and is a sovereign island country. It is part of the Windward Islands of the Caribbean and lies between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It's a large tall island with an area of 750 square kilometres (290 square miles) and the highest point is Morne Diablotins at 1,447 metres (4,747 feet) elevation. The population was 72,301 at the 2014 census.

Our first visit to Dominica was in 1992, 25 years ago (!) on our way home after a 3-year Atlantic Circle aboard our first boat. At that time, there was a lot of poverty and crime in Dominica and we vowed never to come back. But today it has totally changed! We can't recommend it enough!

Sulphur Hot SpringDominica – Sheryl in sulphur hot springs
Dominica is a volcanic island so there are many hot springs. After hiking all day, Sheryl relaxes in mineral enriched hot springs at Tia's Hot Springs.
Photo by Paul Shard

Now there are members of P.A.Y.S. (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) based in Portsmouth who are a group of trained certified guides and local businesses who patrol the anchorage at Prince Rupert Bay by boat 24/7 during the winter sailing season (November to the end of May). As well as providing security, they help "yachties" with numerous services from picking up garbage to organizing scuba diving outings, plus offer guided island tours by van as well as tours by boat, especially the wonderful Indian River trip where scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean II were filmed. We had Martin from the boat Providence take us on this river trip and also drive us out to great hiking trails and waterfalls while we were there.

P.A.Y.S members monitor VHF 16 and when you arrive the P.A.Y.S. member on duty will come out and help you anchor or tie to one of the moorings they maintain and answer any questions you might have. They don’t pester. They also have their own areas of expertise. Some are good fishing guides for example, others know good music venues, some specialize in bird watching, some are great hikers, etc. You can call ahead (their contact info is in the cruising guides) and your guide of choice will meet you with his boat and run you to customs for clearing in if you’d like, or take your crew to a local restaurant and pick everyone up afterwards if you’d rather use a water taxi service than launch your dinghy when you’re making a late arrival. We did this with Albert who also took 3 bags of laundry for cleaning and brought it back nicely dried and folded the next day for about $8 US per load.

On Sunday nights P.A.Y.S. members hold a fundraising BBQ at the P.A.Y.S. Events House which is a great way to meet other sailors as well as local Dominicans. The tickets are $20 US per person and there is a ton of great food, music, and all you can drink rum punch or fruit punch!

Be sure to make Dominica a stop if you are sailing or chartering in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean and time it for Sunday night if you can!

Tobago Cays

Grenadines – Tobago Cays – aerial of Sheryl and Paul on DSII
The Tobago Cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, are a group of several little uninhabited islets in the protection of the huge Horseshoe Reef. Our last visit here was 25 years ago and we were delighted to see that it hadn’t changed much. It is now a national park with park fees of 10 EC ($4 US) per person per day which is collected by a very friendly park wardens.
Photo by Paul Shard

Grenada and the Grenadines
One of the great things about Grenada and the Grenadines of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is that you can happily sail here all year long since this string of islands is located at the lower limit of the Hurricane Belt reducing the chance of encountering summer hurricanes. Many cruising sailors and bareboat charterers take advantage of this opportunity to extend their Caribbean sailing season by cruising amongst the satellite islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, as well as the main islands.

Tyrell Bay on the island of Carriacou, Grenada, is a fun daysail up from the main island of Grenada past where the charter bases are found. Tyrell Bay is a large anchorage with room for all. There are great little beach bars and pizzerias ashore for a quick meal and to hang out with other sailors.

Park Wardens

Grenadines – Tobago Cays – Park Wardens
The Tobago Cays are now a national park with park fees of 10 EC ($4 US) per person per day which is collected by a very friendly park wardens when you arrive.
Photo by Sheryl Shard

Admiralty Bay in Bequia further up-island offers the same thing but the restaurants and shops are a bit more upscale as compared to charmingly rustic. Both are delightful!

Between the two, you will find many great stops such as Chatham Bay on Union Island and, a highlight, the Tobago Cays, a protected area where the water colour is comparable to the incredible colours of the Bahamas. Fish and wildlife abound here (you'll always see turtles) and snorkelling and diving are a favourite pastime of the sailors who come here. Local fishermen host beach BBQ's most nights during the season. Fresh grilled lobster, anyone?

Conclusion
There are so many great places to sail in the Caribbean and Bahamas. We hope these recommendations give you some more ideas of places to explore and that you get the chance to visit them by boat someday soon!

Canadians Paul and Sheryl Shard are the hosts of the Distant Shores sailing adventure TV series and have been cruising internationally since 1989. Meet them at the Toronto International Boat Show in January where they will be conducting seminars about cruising in the Bahamas and Caribbean. You can follow their adventures at www.distantshores.ca
- end -

Our Top 5 Caribbean Destinations

Shards Top 5 Caribbean DestinationsBy Paul and Sheryl Shard

Do you ever dream about traveling by boat on sparkling tropical seas as winter sets in at home and the weather turns colder and grayer?

We used to.

Then, almost 30 years ago, we decided to take a big step and do our first bareboat charter in the Caribbean to escape the snow and experience a mid-winter sailing adventure in Paradise. (We were novice sailors then.) My husband, Paul, and I shared a boat with friends on that trip, which made it pretty affordable, and we discovered that winter sailing in the Caribbean didn't have to be merely a dream after all. We got hooked.

Read more of the Shards Top 5 Caribbean Destinations...

 

 

Lifestyle

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Covey Island Boatworks

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Read More about Covey Island Boatworks....

 

 

 

 

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